Rubbra: Tenebrae Nocturns, Op 72; Missa cantuariensis, Op 59; Five Motets, Op 37; Three Motets, Op 76

Reviewed on Mon 03 Oct, 2016

By the time he completed the first of his three triptychs of Tenebrae Nocturns in 1951, Rubbra had converted to Roman Catholicism, and these riveting unaccompanied settings of the responsories used during Matins on Maunday Thursday find him at the very peak of his powers.

Best known for his towering cycle of 11 symphonies, Edmund Rubbra (1901-1986) also left us a substantial body of sublime choral music, some of the very finest examples of which can be found on this Coro anthology in well-nigh flawless renderings from The Sixteen under Harry Christophers. Written for Canterbury Cathedral in 1946, the Missa cantuariensis boasts some magnificently assured writing for double choir, the challengingly high tessitura of its exuberant concluding Gloria effortlessly negotiated by Christophers's superb vocalists. By the time he completed the first of his three triptychs of Tenebrae Nocturns in 1951, Rubbra had converted to Roman Catholicism, and these riveting unaccompanied settings of the responsories used during Matins on Maunday Thursday find him at the very peak of his powers. Both here and in the Mass there's strong competition from the Choir of St John's College, Cambridge, directed by Christopher Robinson on Naxos, but the attractions of this sumptuously engineered newcomer are further enhanced by the inclusion of the two sets of motets (some eight settings between them), Op 37 from 1934 comprising a particularly nourishing a cappella sequence employing texts by four 16th-century English metaphysical poets, namely Robert Herrick, Henry Vaughan, John Donne and Richard Crashaw. High-class advocacy of some enormously rewarding repertoire, then, perceptively annotated by Alexandra Coghlan and absolutely not to be missed.
–Andrew Achenbach