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Emotive Power

RODERIC DUNNETT sings the praises
of John Joubert, following the recent première
of 'Wings of Faith' in Birmingham UK


John Joubert deserves a higher profile in the canon of great British composers than he has so far been accorded. Like those other neglected figures, Thea Musgrave, John Gardner and the late Anthony Milner, or slightly younger musicians such as Hugh Wood and William Mathias, Joubert deserves an honoured place among the composers who succeeded to the mantle of Britten and Tippett. Since writing his ever-popular carol Torches, Joubert has produced music of substance in almost every genre, not least a clutch of operas (notably Under Western Eyes, Silas Marner, Jane Eyre) and a wealth of worthwhile choral works.

Joubert, who was eighty in March 2007, was in fact born in Cape Town, South Africa, in 1927 of French Huguenot descent. He came to England in the early 1950s and enjoyed a distinguished career as a lecturer in music at first Hull and then Birmingham. Latterly Reader in Music at the University of Birmingham, he still lives in the city, in Moseley. But he eschews self-publicity and despite a handsome garland of performances in this, his anniversary year, his music remains surprisingly ignored outside the loyal Midlands.

Among Joubert's most capable and reliable champions are the Birmingham choir Ex Cathedra, directed by Jeffrey Skidmore, whose expertise in Early Music performance and the Baroque era (not least Skidmore's rediscovery of Mexican and South American repertoire) is offset by a sturdy commitment to living composers. As their beautifully expressive recent world première, as part of a lively Midland 'Joubertiade', demonstrated, Joubert's new oratorio Wings of Faith, heard to good effect (on Thursday 22 March 2007) in the rich and cavernous acoustic of the Birmingham Oratory, is a magnificent achievement by any standards.

John Joubert. Photo © John Morris
John Joubert. Photo © John Morris

An Ex Cathedra commission which was originally designed to celebrate the inception of a new Millennium, and indebted in manner and layout to the Bach Passions, Joubert's Wings of Faith draws its text mainly from the Acts of the Apostles. Taking up where Bach ends and Elgar and Bliss (Mary of Magdala) began, it explores in carefully contrived scenes Mary Magdalen's encounter with the risen Jesus, the two disciples on the Road to Emmaus, doubting Thomas, Christ's Ascension; and then moves on in the second half to explore the stoning of Stephen, the Baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch, St Paul's conversion, and a final optimistic vision of St Peter envisaging a Universal Church.


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Copyright © 5 May 2007 Roderic Dunnett, Coventry UK


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