Various Artists

John Joubert: Chamber & Instrumental Music

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This 2007 Somm release marks British composer John Joubert's 80th birthday, and the celebration features pieces that may be considered highlights of his long career. The emphasis of this double-disc package is on chamber and keyboard works, with the first CD devoted to the String Quartet No. 2, Op. 91, the song cycle Landscapes for soprano and piano trio, Op. 129, and the Piano Trio, Op. 113, while the second CD is made up of the Lyric Fantasy on themes from the opera Jane Eyre, Op. 144, and the Piano Sonatas, Nos. 1-3. Though Joubert is primarily known as a composer of choral music, his skills in instrumental and vocal music are prodigious enough to give the Brodsky String Quartet, soprano Patricia Rozario, violinist David Chadwick, cellist Anna Joubert, and pianists Mark Bebbington and John McCabe sufficient challenges to keep them inspired. Joubert's style is modernist but tonal and highly accessible, and dominant influences in his music appear to be Béla Bartók and Dmitry Shostakovich, particularly in his spiky writing for strings. Yet his piano works are often quite lush and florid, revealing a more relaxed, even jazz-inspired, approach. If there is one fault to this album, it lies in the variable sound: the reproduction is clean and sharp in the String Quartet, blurred and echoic in Landscapes and the Piano Trio, then decent, though with a slight haziness, in the keyboard works -- all of which reveals the differences in venues, acoustics, and recording capabilities too starkly. However, this is a situation many contemporary composers face, since there are rarely more than a few opportunities to play their works and make good enough recordings of them to issue commercially. However, because Joubert's reputation is secure and his music likely to attract many more performances, one can still hope to hear these inventive pieces in much better-sounding recordings in the future.

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