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Joubert's The Shropshire Hills [listen -- track 6, 1:57-3:17] is a set for 'high voice' -- read very high! -- with piano set to the evocative word painting of poet Stephen Tunnicliffe. However, you shouldn't imagine (as I did, a great fan of Shropshire, and the Long Mynd especially) that this is some bucolic, lamb-filled, summer walk afternoons along same. Nothing is calm for long; instead the music consistently attempts to burst beyond its self-imposed boundaries of soprano and piano (the warm-blooded John McCabe is at the keys). Even the 'two sparrows with their bubbling call' seem to drop precipatedly along sheer drops of wildness, over outcrops of vague menace. Archaic harmonies remind one of archaic times, with a constant undercurrent of raging waters and ancient wars. Clun Forest subsists amid the tranquility of memory and regret, with strumming, guitar-like piano writing beneath the flowing lines, and an almost elegiac quality to the 'For some, may the voyage end here, the keel slide to the quay' and a passionate wildness to the piano writing after 'from time to eternity'. Despite the unforgiving height of some of the writing, Rogers maintains the clarity of verse throughout, making the supplied text redundant.

Improvisation for recorder and piano has a subtle symmetry not immediately apparent, and is movingly created, while Richard Tunnicliffe (a friend of mine, I must confess) next performs Joubert's Kontakion [listen -- track 10, 8:21-10:08] with spirit and power. This was a work inspired by the death of one of John Joubert's old school-friends, and features a good deal of stirring string lamentation based upon the traditional Eastern Orthodox chant for the dead. Later the cellist is calmed by the piano to some degree, but the mood remains sombre: outburst leading to threnody to frustration and one furious explosion from the cello finally giving way to the more sombre C-string timbre and to a reconciliation straight from the angels.

Six Poems by Emily Brontë is an earlier work by Joubert, for soprano and piano. Her poems are much as one might expect, not the equal of her prose, but certainly good enough to inspire Joubert, especially in his subtly searing Oracle (though I personally suspect that, were I to ask any 'smiling child' what 'the past is to thee?' one would be extremely unlikely to get the answer, 'An Autumn evening soft and mild/With a wind that sighs mournfully'). Still, such cavils aside, the song Immortality seems to me exactly to express the soul of Emily Brontë in music: her longing for freedom and wildness, her precocious maturity, her inexpressibly dramatic yearning.

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Copyright © 14 December 2007 Alice McVeigh, Kent UK


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