The two symphonies on this album are the most classically modelled of Rubbra’s series of eleven.
Rubbra is now so associated with the symphony that it is almost forgotten that he came to the form late in his career, having spent much of his younger life as a freelance composer. Indeed, it was his work as a pianist which brought him into contact with the European scene, and he played for the dancers of the Ballets Russes on their visits to London. Rubbra developed a particualr interest in the music of Debussy, Strvinsky and Bartók - influences that should be borne in mind when listening to these early works.
The Third Symphony was composed between 1938 and 1939 and was first performed in Manchester by the Hallé Orchestra under Malcolm Sargent on 15 December 1940. The first performance was to take place in London on 23 September, but had to be cancelled due to an air raid. The companion work in the programme, perhaps significantly, was the Second Symphony of Brahms.
The first movement is closer to classical sonata form than any of his other symphonic works, but the opening scales and affectionately Sibelian material find eventual resolution only in the fugue subject and its ascending scalic upbeat at the end of the work. His architectural sense with regard to the close connection between musical content and texture is clearly shown in his orchestration. The work had an advocate in Rubbra’s friend Bernard Herrmann, (now largely remembered for his film score), who, in his conducting of the work, particularly impressed Rubbra with his close attention to textural detail.
Seventeen years later Rubbra had begun his Seventh Symphony. It was a work of his symphonic maturity and contains one of the greatest single movements, the Passacaglia finale. It was commissioned for the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and was conducted by Andrzej Panufnick in 1957. The seed of the pensive C minor conclusion to the symphony is already hld at the beginning of the work,. whilst the rhythmic solidity of the first movement finds release in the rhythmically asymmetrical scherzo, one of Rubbra’s most engaging movements. The concluding passacaglia and fugue are the emotional heart of the Symphony, its obvious precedent being the passacaglia in the finale of the Fourth Symphony of Brahms.