John Joubert - Symphony No. 1

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Imagine if you may a more sinister Gustav Holst, and you get a rough idea of the sound world of John Joubert, a British composer of South African descent born in 1927. One of his composition teachers was he himself the pupil of the teacher of Bax, Holbrooke and Bantock, so Joubert was off to a good start. He is one of those composers in which the heart and mind are constantly working in tandem, therefore the emotional and intellectual aspects of the music co-exist in perfect harmony at all times. The drama within the music never becomes excessive because the logical musical discourse is always in control of the music's thematic development, but still manages to deliver a few effective and punchy climaxes within a tight and methodical musical syntax.

The first movement marked Allegro energico immediately establishes the symphony's dark tinge and demonstrates the composer's ability to manipulate and combine various elements together and create moments of great tension. The slow movement that follows is the tragic core of the symphony and builds to moments of sad and gripping beauty. The frenetic Presto Scherzo that comes next, is brimming with rapid fire rhythmic energy, and again brings to mind the 'Mercury' segment of Gustav Holst's Planets, but without the sunny (no pun intended) disposition. The final movement opens with bold statements accentuated by dark and heavy percussion, but quickly becomes a more energetic and upbeat affair, full of confidence and hope, somewhat like some of Shostakovich's last movements. And if you are like me, and enjoy a symphonic coda that brings everything together and puts an explosive cap on the end, the closing moments of this great symphony will make your day.

This Lyrita recording was done in 2007 to celebrate the composer's 80th birthday. Because it only features the Symphony No. 1, which only lasts 31 minutes, it makes for a rather short CD. But then again, it is offered at a lower price then usual. Regardless of the duration or the price, the music on offer here far outweighs the timing. Great music should not be valued by the minute!

Jean-Yves Duperron