JOUBERT: Piano Concerto.* Symphony No. 3 / *Martin Jones, pno; BBC National Orch. of Wales; William Boughton, cond / Lyrita SRCD367
South African-born, British composer John Joubert, who celebrated his 91st birthday on March 20 of this year, is a fairly conservative writer whose music is not much known outside the British Isles. The Piano Concerto, which dates from 1958, is apparently typical of his oeuvre: sprightly rhythms and an interesting use of chromatics within his essentially tonal style. He uses a very economical four-note theme as the launching pad for the first movement, and although I am not ready to put him in the same category with York Bowen, it is very fine music indeed. Joubert is quoted in the booklet as saying, “Communication is important to me. I want to be understood, enjoyed and used. I do not want to live in the enclosed and artificial world of ‘Contemporary Music,’ but in the repertory of musicians whom I respect, in the schools, in the churches, and in the theatre.” I would think that this brilliantly-played recording would ensure him of that. The second movement I found to be even more original than the first, using almost modal harmonies with a bright wind texture à la Stravinsky, and quite powerful orchestral climaxes that belie its designated tempo of “Lento.”
Another thing I really like about Joubert is that he is very economical in his use of material; none of his music overstays its welcome, and is always fascinating enough to hold the listener’s attention. Nowhere is this more evident than in the last movement of the concerto, which starts with an actual “Lento” theme before moving into the “Allegro vivace.” It’s always a trap for composers to write such movements without sounding as if they are simply recycling material in order to keep the momentum up (think of the last movement of the Schubert Ninth Symphony). Joubert has no such problem, for despite the continual forward momentum his music is always changing and morphing.
The Third Symphony, by contrast, was composed between 2014 and 2017 when Joubert was a young man of 87-90 years old! It is based on “Themes from ‘Jane Eyre,’” but the music is nowhere near as echt-Romantic as the plot of that famous book. Joubert has been quoted as saying that if he had his way he would write opera and “nothing but opera,” and this symphony gave him an opportunity to write “operatically” for orchestra. His themes, again, are lyrical but not maudlin or sappy; his acute sense of harmonic movement precludes such a predictable outcome. The symphony’s five movements are titled “Lowood School – Lento,” “Thornfield House – Lento-Allegro,” “Thornfield Church – Andante-Allegro,” “Whitecross Rectory – Lento-Allegro” and “Thornfield Park – Allegro,” and each is masterfully conceived and executed. Boughton, who is one of my favorite British conductors not widely known here across the pond, gives the music a muscular, dramatic reading that in itself belies its Romantic inspiration. Even such lyrical episodes as the second movement keep the listener on the edge of his or her seat, enjoying the composer’s very personal and fascinating mode of musical progression. None of his harmonic movement is predictable or formulaic; everything is an adventure. This is clearly music that would not be played on most American classical music stations, and thank goodness for that!
In the third movement, Joubert uses dramatic pauses within the opening “Andante,” yet keeps things moving in an interesting way. He then develops the “Allegro” with jumping, asymmetric figures, juxtaposing strings, winds and brass in unusual ways. The only part of the symphony that disappointed me was the very ending of the last movement: to my ears, somewhat predictable and bombastic. Otherwise, it’s a fine piece of music.
I strongly recommend a listen to this CD. It’s well worth your while.
—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley
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