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The Griller Quartet & Rubbra Trio Play Rubbra, Mozart, Haydn

Release Date: 03/10/2009 
Label:  Dutton Laboratories/Vocalion   Catalog #: 9792   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Edmund RubbraWolfgang Amadeus MozartFranz Joseph Haydn
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Rubbra TrioGriller String Quartet
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Mono 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

RUBBRA String Quartet No. 2. 1 Piano Trio in 1 Movement. 2 HAYDN Piano Trio in f?: Adagio cantabile. 2 MOZART Piano Trio No. 1 2 Griller Str Qrt; 1 Rubbra-Gruenberg-Pleeth Tr 2 Read more class="BULLET12b">• DUTTON 9792, mono (75:51)

The recording of Rubbra’s String Quartet No. 2 on this album brings back memories. It was my first exposure to the composer’s music, discovered in the mid 1960s on a London LP coupled with the String Quartet No. 2 by Bliss. The latter performance has since been re-released on Dutton 9780, with the composer’s Quartet No. 1 as its discmate. This marks the first release on CD of the Grillers performing Rubbra, unless I’m mistaken.

The audio is clearly dated. The CEDAR process in the right hands can help to clean up noisy surfaces, but it can’t improve a moderately constricted sound, or enliven a dry acoustic that was an earlier standard in chamber recordings. On the other hand, the performance retains both its crackling vitality and long-breathed sensitivity, as heard to advantage in the work’s successive Scherzo polimetrico and Cavatina movements. The Cavatina in particular is a success, and manages to suspend time in a way that only great ensembles are capable of achieving. A few dated portamentos to one side, this remains a spellbinding reading, more intense on occasion than the only other version of the work on record (with the Dante Quartet on Dutton 7114).

The Piano Trio possesses the additional cachet of a performance with the composer at the piano. It is, if anything, even more constricted in sound, with the Decca engineers’ solution to balance issues—moving the violinist and cellist further away from the microphone—less than satisfactory. Not that the work’s largely unchanging textures help; but the quality of the part writing and the thematic content, with its pensive expressivity, easily win out. The concluding section, a vehicle for emotional catharsis provided by running triumphant bell-like sonorities across all three instruments, is nearly worth the price alone. The Rubbra-Gruenberg-Pleeth Trio supplies the kind of assured performance one expects from superior musicians who have played this music together for several years. (The ensemble was formed during World War II, with violinist Joshua Glazer. His replacement was Norbert Brainin, who left in 1949 to found the Amadeus Quartet, at which time Gruenberg took over. The current lineup lasted until the Trio’s demise in the late 1950s.)

In the same general period they recorded both the Mozart and Haydn on this disc. The latter is especially good in its balance, subtle playfulness, and freedom from 19th-century rhetoric. By contrast, the Mozart sounds somewhat stiff and unsmiling, notably so in the Andante movement. Brief liner notes by Adrian Yardley (to which are appended Rubbra’s own rather dryly analytical notes for his pair of works, and the Mozart) mention that none of the musicians were at that period used to the recording process, and that this took its toll on their efforts. It’s understandable, but I think some other archival issues of Rubbra’s own music might have finished the disc off to greater advantage—perhaps the first recording of the Missa in honorem Sancti Dominici , with the Fleet Street Choir conducted in part by T. B. Lawrence, whose death midway into the project led to its completion under the composer’s baton.

Regardless, this is a suitable testament to a distinguished composer, as well as to one of the finest string ensembles of its time. Recommended.

FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
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Works on This Recording

Trio for Piano and Strings no 1, Op. 68 by Edmund Rubbra
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Rubbra Trio
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1950; England 
Trio for Piano and Strings no 1 in G major, K 496 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Rubbra Trio
Period: Classical 
Written: 1786; Vienna, Austria 
Trio for Piano, Violin and Cello in F sharp minor, H 15 no 26: 2nd movement, Adagio cantabile by Franz Joseph Haydn
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Rubbra Trio
Period: Classical 
Written: 1795; London, England 
Quartet for Strings no 2 in E flat major, Op. 73 by Edmund Rubbra
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Griller String Quartet
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1952; England 

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