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English Choral Music - Rubbra: Nine Tenebrae Motets, Etc


Release Date: 04/17/2001 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 8555255   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Edmund Rubbra
Performer:  Robert Houssart
Conductor:  Christopher Robinson
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cambridge St. John's College Choir
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 6 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

The program featured here is nearly identical to that given by Gloriae Dei Cantores on a disc reviewed earlier (type Q3193 in Search Reviews). Besides offering useful performance comparisons in those duplicated works, Christopher Robinson and his Choir of St. John's College, Cambridge fill out the disc with one of Rubbra's most interesting and rarely heard pieces, the Missa Cantuariensis, and an outstanding organ work, the Prelude & Fugue on a theme of Cyril Scott. As for comparisons, first is the difference in choral sound due to St. John's boys and men lineup versus Gloriae Dei Cantores' adult SATB configuration. This is no small difference: the St. John's sound gives more distinct clarity and a slight edginess to the treble/soprano Read more line, while the GDC's is warmer and more "blended". Further, Robinson takes an invariably faster approach to all the works here, giving them a bit more of an urgency and immediacy than GDC's generally more contemplative or deliberate interpretations. This is not to suggest that one view is more effective or even preferable; however, I find that when heard side by side, the St. John's more intensely inflected style delivers the impact of Rubbra's often-unusual harmonies, long dramatic sections, and sudden dynamic outbursts best, while the GDC singers are better at capturing the atmosphere of the more meditative passages and movements.


The Tenebrae Motets Op. 72 certainly offer plenty of opportunity for a choir to demonstrate its range of vocal and interpretive accomplishment. Among the work's nine separate sections lies some of Rubbra's most beautiful, dramatic, craggy, lyrical, and challenging music for voices, from the stark style of Vaughan Williams' Mass in G minor to the more adventurous manner of later Britten--and the St. John's choir is fully in command here, using the acoustic space of the famous chapel to fine effect (of course the engineers had just a little to do with this, too!). The Missa Cantuariensis, written near the end of World War II, captures this same dramatic energy and packages it in a style that's both immediately and easily accessible to the ear and one that just sounds fresh even after all the years since its composition. Its accessibility is no accident: it was written at the encouragement of the Precentor of Canterbury Cathedral, who wished more composers would write new music for the liturgy and felt that the Church should actively promote this activity. Again, however, this doesn't mean it's an "easy" work to perform, but it has a singability that confirms Rubbra's mastery of choral writing and his keen ear for his audience's desire for tonal yet "modern sounding" music.


The organ pieces are not just filler but are engaging and worthy works in their own right--and they're given first rate performances here by organist Robert Houssart. There are some scattered moments in which individual voices are prominent where they shouldn't be, but in general the sound is true to the ensemble balance and to the chapel's full, resonant acoustic. Informative notes and full texts are included. [5/26/2001]
--David Vernier, ClassicsToday.com Read less

Works on This Recording

1.
Magnificat and Nunc Dimitis in A flat major, Op. 65 by Edmund Rubbra
Performer:  Robert Houssart (Organ)
Conductor:  Christopher Robinson
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cambridge St. John's College Choir
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1948; England 
Date of Recording: 03/2000 
Venue:  St John's College Chapel, Cambridge 
Length: 6 Minutes 12 Secs. 
Language: Latin 
2.
Missa in honorem Sancti Dominici, Op. 66 by Edmund Rubbra
Conductor:  Christopher Robinson
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cambridge St. John's College Choir
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1948; England 
Date of Recording: 03/2000 
Venue:  St John's College Chapel, Cambridge 
Length: 14 Minutes 56 Secs. 
Language: Latin 
3.
Meditation for Organ, Op. 79 by Edmund Rubbra
Performer:  Robert Houssart (Organ)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1953; England 
Date of Recording: 03/2000 
Venue:  St John's College Chapel, Cambridge 
Length: 2 Minutes 59 Secs. 
4.
Missa cantuariensis, Op. 59 by Edmund Rubbra
Performer:  Robert Houssart (Organ)
Conductor:  Christopher Robinson
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cambridge St. John's College Choir
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1945; England 
Date of Recording: 03/2000 
Venue:  St John's College Chapel, Cambridge 
Length: 16 Minutes 51 Secs. 
Language: English 
5.
Prelude and Fugue for Piano on a theme by Cyril Scott, Op. 69 by Edmund Rubbra
Performer:  Robert Houssart (Organ)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1949; England 
Date of Recording: 03/2000 
Venue:  St John's College Chapel, Cambridge 
Length: 4 Minutes 52 Secs. 
6.
Tenebrae Motets (9), Op. 72: Nocturne no 1 by Edmund Rubbra
Conductor:  Christopher Robinson
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cambridge St. John's College Choir
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1951-1961; England 
Date of Recording: 03/2000 
Venue:  St John's College Chapel, Cambridge 
Length: 8 Minutes 44 Secs. 
Language: Latin 
7.
Tenebrae Motets (9), Op. 72: Nocturne no 2 by Edmund Rubbra
Conductor:  Christopher Robinson
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cambridge St. John's College Choir
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1951-1961; England 
Date of Recording: 03/2000 
Venue:  St John's College Chapel, Cambridge 
Length: 6 Minutes 58 Secs. 
Language: Latin 
8.
Tenebrae Motets (9), Op. 72: Nocturne no 3 by Edmund Rubbra
Conductor:  Christopher Robinson
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cambridge St. John's College Choir
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1951-1961; England 
Date of Recording: 03/2000 
Venue:  St John's College Chapel, Cambridge 
Length: 7 Minutes 14 Secs. 
Language: Latin 

Sound Samples

Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis in A flat major, Op. 65: I. Magnificat
Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis in A flat major, Op. 65: II. Nunc dimittis
Missa in honorem Sancti Dominici, Op. 66, "St. Dominic Mass": Kyrie
Missa in honorem Sancti Dominici, Op. 66, "St. Dominic Mass": Gloria
Missa in honorem Sancti Dominici, Op. 66, "St. Dominic Mass": Credo
Missa in honorem Sancti Dominici, Op. 66, "St. Dominic Mass": Sanctus
Missa in honorem Sancti Dominici, Op. 66, "St. Dominic Mass": Benedictus
Missa in honorem Sancti Dominici, Op. 66, "St. Dominic Mass": Agnus Dei
Prelude and Fugue on a Theme of Cyril Scott, Op. 69 (arr. for organ): Prelude and Fugue on a Theme of Cyril Scott, Op. 69 (organ arr.)
Tenebrae Motets, Op. 72: First Nocturn: I. In monte Oliveti
Tenebrae Motets, Op. 72: First Nocturn: II. Tristis est anima mea
Tenebrae Motets, Op. 72: First Nocturn: III. Ecce vidimus eum
Tenebrae Motets, Op. 72: Second Nocturn: I. Amicus meus
Tenebrae Motets, Op. 72: Second Nocturn: II. Judas mercator pessimus
Tenebrae Motets, Op. 72: Second Nocturn: III. Unus ex discipulis
Tenebrae Motets, Op. 72: Third Nocturn: I. Eram quasi agnus innocens
Tenebrae Motets, Op. 72: Third Nocturn: II. Una hora non potuistis
Tenebrae Motets, Op. 72: Third Nocturn: III. Seniores populi
Meditation for Organ, Op. 79
Missa Cantuariensis, Op. 59, "Canterbury Mass": Kyrie
Missa Cantuariensis, Op. 59, "Canterbury Mass": Credo
Missa Cantuariensis, Op. 59, "Canterbury Mass": Sanctus
Missa Cantuariensis, Op. 59, "Canterbury Mass": Benedictus
Missa Cantuariensis, Op. 59, "Canterbury Mass": Agnus Dei
Missa Cantuariensis, Op. 59, "Canterbury Mass": Gloria in excelsis

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