Ruth Gipps
Symphony No.4, Op.61
Knight in Armour, Op.8
Symphony No.2 in B, Op.30
Song for Orchestra, Op.33
BBC National Orchestra of Wales
Rumon Gamba

Recorded 12-14 February 2018 in BBC Hoddinott Hall, Cardiff
CD No: CHANDOS CHAN 20078
Duration: 69 minutes
Reviewed: October 2018

I am not surprised that her Second Symphony has been recorded before, it’s an impressive twenty-minute piece in one movement divided into eight segueing sections. English musician Ruth Gipps (1921-99) was a child prodigy, studying at the Royal College of Music, reaching concert-standard as an oboist and a pianist (when a student she tackled Brahms’s Second Concerto) until a hand injury put paid to her playing either instrument, and from there she concentrated on composition and conducting; in the latter capacity she formed the London Repertoire Orchestra and the Chanticleer Orchestra.

Alongside Gordon Jacob, one of Gipps’s teachers was Ralph Vaughan Williams, and it shows, clearly a very big influence on Symphony 2 (1945, first-performed the following year in Birmingham under George Weldon), a pastoral if quick-change work that is lyrical, eloquent, evocative, a fife-and-drum episode marches keenly, and overall colourful (it can be heard as end-of-war optimistic), notably fluent in terms of attractive invention (sometimes folksy) and concise design as well as resourcefully orchestrated.

The rest of the pieces here are all first recordings. Symphony 4 (1972, dedicated to Arthur Bliss) is an expansive four-movement affair that took ten years to be aired, literally, by the BBC Scottish SO and John Pritchard. No-less romantic and suggestive than No.2, if perhaps with slightly more gnarled harmony, maybe the first movement's energy of fast music and the loveliness of its slower passages doesn’t quite gel, but there is no doubting the allure of the latter. The succeeding Adagio, with Ravelian harp flourishes and woodwind and violin solos, suggests an idyllic landscape, which sonorous tuttis (reminding of Percy Grainger’s Lincolnshire Posy) cannot assuage. The Scherzo is something of a winged messenger, Mendelssohnian-delicate in texture if not as spectral as Gustav Holst’s example, albeit falling just a little too easily into reverie. The Finale, the longest movement, and with ten changes of tempo, opens straight out of the Delius canon, succeeded by music that suggests an open-top sports car being driven care-freely with no other traffic to impede the journey; contrasts abound, sometimes fleetingly, and you could never accuse Gipps of indulgence or verbosity.

Of the short pieces, Knight in Armour (a 1942 Proms premiere, Henry Wood presiding) is heraldic and mystical, also rousing; and Song for Orchestra (1948, another Birmingham/Weldon launch) is of poetic contentment.

These sympathetic and polished performances are well-enough recorded, if, by Chandos’s standards, a little contained and slightly biased to the treble, but it’s no barrier to (re)discovering likeable, listenable and skilled music. According to Wiki, Ruth Gipps was a “tough personality that many found off-putting, and [with] a fierce determination to prove herself through her work.” Add to which (from Lewis Foreman's booklet note): “She was no tactician or diplomat and spoke her mind bluntly." The music here belies these descriptions, being inviting and considered, if maybe too abruptly changeable in terms of symphonic thought; a restless mind.

 

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