South African-born English composer John Joubert turns 90 this year and SOMM Recordings are celebrating. In July, Clive Paget reviewed their recording of the opera Jane Eyre, remarking on Joubert’s stylistic resemblance to Britten. It’s very apparent in this choral music, written between 1952 and 2015. The polytonal harmonies, the word setting, and the choral voicings strongly recall the early Britten of A Boy Was Born and Cantata Academica, although Joubert’s settings are more robust. These traits appear clearly in Three Portraits, a setting of poems by Tudor poet John Skelton.
The works are mostly unaccompanied, one exception the charming Autumn Rain (1985). The longest, most interesting work is South of the Line: an anti-war cantata, setting Hardy’s poems about the Boer War. The singers are accompanied by two pianos, percussion and timpani (very Noye’s Fludde), excitingly used. Two movements employ solo vocalists: soprano Chloe Salvidge is impressive in the demanding tessitura of A Wife in London.
The Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir used boys in their 2014 Howells recording, but this time the sopranos and altos are female. In fortes (such as Chorus 1 of Incantation, or the Sonnet Op. 123) the women overpower the men, whose tone is fairly wan. The blend isn’t always homogenous,
but the ensemble shines in South of the Line, the work that makes this disc compelling.