John Joubert (b. 1927)
String Quartets 1, 2 & 3
Brodsky String Quartet
Daniel Rowland, Ian Belton Violins
Paul Cassidy Viola
Jacqueline Thomas Cello
Another important SOMM release, well timed to celebrate composer John Joubert’s 85th birthday on 20th March.
It was exactly five years ago, in celebration of Joubert’s 80th birthday, that SOMM brought out a well-filled double-CD set of music by John Joubert which included a world premiere of his Second String Quartet with the Brodsky Quartet.
The reviews were enthusiastic. Michael Kennedy wrote warmly in the Sunday Telegraph:
“It is good to see a record company celebrating the 80th birthday of John Joubert with
such excellent performances. The Brodskys’ playing of the second string quartet is full of
vitality and musical insights into a profound work.”
echoed by BBC Music Magazine with…
“Pride of place goes to Joubert’s 1977 Second Quartet, an impressive piece played with
great conviction by the Brodsky Quartet.”
With Joubert’s 85th birthday in mind the Brodsky Quartet enthusiastically agreed to record for SOMM the premieres of the first and third quartets, thus making this a double celebration. They too, celebrate this year the 40th anniversary since the founding of the Quartet which has taken them on a unique voyage of discovery, culminating with their recording of the Joubert Quartets.
The CD booklet contains notes on each of the Quartets, written by Joubert himself. He told us at SOMM how he relished the idea of writing explanatory notes on the Quartets as he felt very closely connected to each of these works, marking as they did, important stages in his life, both as a person and as a composer.
In “Joubert Remembers”, part of the booklet notes, music critic, journalist and Joubert alumnus Christopher Morley writes:
“A Performing Rights Society scholarship brought John Joubert to London in 1946,in order to study at the Royal Academy of Music. In 1949 he was awarded a Royal Philharmonic Society prize, and lectureships followed, first at the University of Hull,and later at the University of Birmingham (where he enthused students for nearly a quarter of a century). Early retirement in 1986 enabled him at last to devote himself to full-time composition, and the ink has never stopped flowing.”
Ample proof of Joubert’s continuing Indian summer is one of his latest works, the 25-minute Cello Concerto Op. 171, commissioned by cellist Rafael Wallfisch and successfully premiered by him last Sunday at St. Mary’s Church, Shrewsbury, with the Northern Chamber Orchestra. This was broadcast live by BBC Radio Three.
Elaine Gould, Senior New Music Editor at Faber Music and another Joubert alumnus has contributed a brief Foreword in the booklet, which encapsulates the essence of the three Quartets on this CD.
“Following John Joubert’s subsequent career, I have been struck by his single-mindedness in following his own path. These quartets are deeply-felt works: the integrity of the man is heard in every bar of them. Each has a distinct voice and its own harmonic language that binds it into a harmonic and stylistic unity.The three quartets follow the near forty-year journey of a composer from a youthful but mature Opus 1, written at 21, to the third quartet, Opus 112, written in his 60thyear. They afford us the opportunity to compare works from three different decades of his career.
The earliest quartet sounds as fresh now as it must have done in 1951. It is a remarkably assured work for a 21-year-old, who at that time had no particular interest in nor experience of chamber music. To my ears it is full of ravishingly beautiful music. The slow, central movement, written first, Joubert considers to be full of nostalgia– for the South Africa that he had left at 19 years old and to which he had to make a decision as to whether or not to return. The joyous rapture of the quartet’s outer movements must owe not a little to the fact that John met Mary, his future wife, at the point when he was embarking on writing these movements. (Their developing relationship was instrumental in his decision to stay in England.)
If the first quartet owes a debt to Walton, the second possesses darker overtones that look towards Eastern Europe. It plays on the tonal ambiguities of its Beethoven motif throughout, at times with acerbic wit, at others with dark foreboding. It has a violence and despair not found in the first quartet, the poignancy of the earlier work turned into a bleaker outlook, notably in the third movement tribute to Shostakovich. This work is the fifty-year-old composer confronting his own mortality, looking back at his composerly influences and staring life’s uncertainties in the face. Joubert’s affinity with Shostakovich’s musical language manifests itself in this quartet. His admiration and identification with Shostakovich the dissident held a parallel to his own life: Joubert’s own dissident voice on South Africa brought much vicious comment in the early 1970s.
By the time Joubert came to write the third quartet the influence of Shostakovich had become so absorbed into his musical language that the inclusion of the DSCH quotation that imbues the second quartet was an unconscious statement. Equally as strident and uncompromising as the second quartet, the third has the concentration of ideas and energy of a mature composer. As in the first and second quartets, the slow movement is the emotional core of the work, by turn passionate and desolate,and, as in the earlier quartets, the harmonic tensions set up in previous movements reach their resolution in the finale.
These three quartets are a valuable contribution to the repertoire and my hope is that this disc will make them more widely known. The highly regarded second quartet included on this disc is probably the only one previously known to most listeners. It was recorded by SOMM and issued as a premiere recording in a double-CD set of Joubert’s Chamber & Instrumental Music (SOMMCD 060-2) in 2007 during the composer’s 80th birthday celebrations. The very welcome premiere recordings of the first and third quartets allow us to hear two important pieces which have been denied to us for far too long.
On This Recording
- String Quartet No. 1: I. Allegro non troppo
- String Quartet No. 1: II. Lento
- String Quartet No. 1: III. Allegro – Andante tranquillo – Allegro
- String Quartet No. 2: I. Moderato: poco lento
- String Quartet No. 2: II. Allegro vivace
- String Quartet No. 2: III. Adagio – Presto – Adagio
- String Quartet No. 2: IV. Allegretto
- String Quartet No. 3: I. Allegro con fuoco
- String Quartet No. 3: II. Molto lento
- String Quartet No. 3: III. Allegro vivace