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John Joubert Piano Works

Piano Sonata No.1 Op.24 (1957); Piano Sonata No.2 Op.71 (1972); Piano Sonata No.3 Op.157 (2006) Lyric Fantasy Op.144 (2000)

John McCabe (Sonatas), Mark Bebbington (Fantasy)

Somm SOMMCD 060-2

John Joubert (b.1927) is best known for his choral work, especially the settings of mediaeval carols ‘Torches, torches’ and ‘There is no Rose,’ but has written in all forms, including opera, in a style that might be described as neo-Romantic, since it is tonal and expressive, but makes full acknowledgment of the Western tradition. This balance of traditional and modern is evident in –say- the Six Short Preludes On English Hymn Tunes Op. 125 for Organ or the Cantata Op 59 on the Martyrdom of St Alban.

Commentators have argued that this rootedness in older music is an off-shoot of Joubert’s South African origins, contrasting it with Australian composers such as Peter Sculthorpe, who can feel a much closer indigenous connection than can white South Africans and write accordingly. It is also possible that composers like Joubert, who have written extensively in the Anglican church idiom, necessarily start from a point that is essentially familiar to the modern listener. One might cite Francis Pott as a younger equivalent.

Joubert was a well-respected academic, but he retired in the eighties in order to devote himself to full-time composition, and remains a shining example of creative energy in later life.

This excellent double-CD survey* of Joubert’s chamber and instrumental music includes a fine disc of piano music, which shows both performers, Mark Bebbington and John McCabe, in an excellent light. Bebbington sensitively plays the late Lyric Fantasy which opens the disc; its themes based on Joubert’s opera ‘Jane Eyre.’ McCabe is shown to good advantage in the second sonata, both in the delicacy of the opening, and the tarantella scherzo that follows, and conjures beautiful tone in the slow movement of the third sonata, and effortlessly adapts to the heftiness of the finale.

The Third sonata is very recent, written for the pianist Duncan Honeybourne (who was associated with Joubert in Birmingham), and commissioned by Weymouth Music Society; although Joubert expressed great appreciation of Honeybourne’s performance at the premiere, Somm chose a bigger name (McCabe) to make the recording.

Good modern recording, an excellent piano disc.

Ying Chang

* for full review of the double-CD, see Hubert Culot on Music Web [Editor]