South Africa

South Africa—John Joubert
In 2007, South-African born composer John Joubert turned 80 in his
adopted home in Great Britain. At his birthday’s approach, he was
thinking, ‘‘I thought I’d been forgotten.’’ Not so. The occasion drew
much needed attention to his music, which at that time was new to
me. I was so impressed by the Toccata Classics release of Joubert’s
exquisitely set Four Song-Cycles (TOCC 0045) that I ran out to buy his
Symphony no. 1, on the resurrected Lyrita label (SRCD.322), and a
superb two-CD release of his chamber and piano music on the Somm
2199 label (SOMMCD 060-2).
I especially liked the excellent Piano Trio, a major half-hour work,
and the First Symphony, which, in its arresting presto movement,
comes close to the galvanizing excitement ofWilliam Walton’s First
Symphony, under whose salutary influence it must have been written.
I was astounded at the quality ofwhat I heard and puzzled that works
of this stature could have been overlooked for so long. Now add to
this the British Music Society’s release of Joubert’s work for string
orchestra, Temps Perdu, the Sinfonietta, and the song cycle The Instant
Moment (BMS 419CD). The string work and the Sinfonietta immediately
leap to the very front order of such works in 20th century Great
Britain—a highly competitive field with the likes of pieces by Holst,
Finzi, Vaughan Williams, Bridge, Britten, Tippett, et cetera. They are
simply exquisite. As one might imagine from the Proustian title, Temps
Perdu: Variations for String Orchestra is drenched in a marvelous sense of
expectancy, yearning and nostalgia. It is written with great refinement.
I have fallen in love with it. The Sinfonietta is another gem, with echoes
of Sibelius floating through the first of its three movements. Having
heard the Toccata disk, the superlative quality of Joubert’s settings of
five D. H. Lawrence poems in The Instant Moment was no surprise.
Committed performances by the English String Orchestra and baritone
Henry Herford, under conductor William Boughton, make this disk indispensable to any collection of British music. If you cannot
find it locally, go to: http://www.britishmusicsociety.2200
To mark Joubert’s 85th birthday, the Somm label issued a CD
(SOMMCD 113) with Joubert’s String Quartet nos. 1–3, in riveting
performances by the Brodsky Quartet. The last movement of the
First Quartet plays with the theme from Walton’s First Symphony
with a combination of throbbing nervous intensity and exuberance.
Shostakovich takes over from Walton in the Second Quartet: It has
Beethoven spine with Shostakovich flesh. The third movement Adagio
is an overt tribute to Shostakovich, subtitled (in memoriam DSCH). It
is tougher work with some searing moments, but nothing anyone who
2201 admires Shostakovich’s quartets would have any trouble appreciating.

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