Lyrita – John Joubert

0 of 5 stars

Symphony No.1, Op.20

London Philharmonic Orchestra
Vernon Handley

Recorded 2 March 1994 in Watford Town Hall [Recording date and location not advised in Lyrita’s annotation beyond a copyright date of 2007]

Reviewed by: Peter Joelson

Reviewed: December 2007
Duration: 31 minutes



John Joubert, born in Cape Town on 27 March 1927, grew up in a musical environment. His mother had had lessons from Harriet Cohen and was his first piano teacher. Young John was later sent to the Diocesan College where the new Director of Music, Claude Brown, had recently arrived from Worcester Cathedral having been the assistant to Sir Ivor Atkins. One of Claude’s prize possessions was a copy of “The Dream of Gerontius” inscribed to him by Elgar.

The young Joubert had the good fortune to have his very early compositions played by the school orchestra, then by the Cape Town Symphony Orchestra under William Pickerill. The Diocesan College is within walking distance of the South African College of Music where Joubert had lessons in composition with the Principal, W. H. “Daddy” Bell, whose own fine A South African Symphony is available on Marco Polo 8.223833 conducted by Richard Cock, another former student of both the Diocesan College and the SACM. Bell, brother-in-law of Sir J. B. McEwen, had travelled to South Africa to found, in 1912, the SACM as a southern informal outpost of the Royal Academy of Music.

Joubert won a scholarship to the RAM in 1946, where he wrote his official Opus 1, the First String Quartet. After graduating in 1950, with an external BMus degree, he was appointed a lecturer in music at the university in Hull and has lived in England ever since. The First Symphony was commissioned in 1955 by the Hull Philharmonic Society and first performed in 1956 by the Hull Philharmonic, which consisted largely of amateur players, under Vilem Tausky. Joubert provided those musicians with a profound challenge.

The symphony, which Joubert views as his first mature work, is in four movements for full orchestra. The first movement, Allegro energico, is quite dark in its colours, serious in expanding its thoughts and tough in its character. In between, a cantabile melody appears twice, providing a gentler atmosphere. Vernon Handley divides the violins left and right and adds to the clarity of the exposition. The second movement, Lento, ma non troppo, tells of tragedy and pain. Cries from the whole orchestra are interspersed with more elegiac harmonically bare passages. After an intense climax the mood becomes gentler as if the conflict has been tempered.

The third movement, Presto, is a scherzo where the humour is decidedly acerbic. Very rhythmic in character, punctuated by a ha-ha-ha motif, it certainly requires the extremely tight ensemble it gets here. Lovers of Walton’s First Symphony will take to this movement. The finale begins with a longer Adagio introduction than Joubert had first envisaged – the shorter one was used at the premiere – and it contains some of the most magical passages in this work, a descending motif for high strings. This introduction raises the temperature for what now seems the perfect time for the Allegro vivace to have its impact. For the first time the music is now decidedly upbeat and becomes more confident, ending with a feeling that all conflict has been resolved, and the symphony ends in sunlight.

It is a young man’s work; it is an extremely talented young man’s work. The First Symphony has made a deep impression on me; its tight construction and superb orchestration give so much pleasure. I look forward to recordings of more of Joubert’s orchestral works, among them Deploration, a powerful work in memory of Benjamin Britten, culminating in a quote from the Last Post, and the Second Symphony in one short movement, dedicated to the victims of the 1960 Sharpeville massacre.

The London Philharmonic, under Handley, plays magnificently, and Lyrita has given us yet another very finely engineered recording. Because of the short playing time, this release sells for half-price. I cannot recommend it too highly.

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