David Dubery, a South African-born composer (b. 1948), active mostly in England, was new to me. I was struck by the beauty of his music, and so I went to the Fanfare Archive and found a review in 26:1 by David DeBoor Canfield. His reaction to another disc that combined vocal and instrumental music was equally positive. His final paragraph began this way: “There is nothing not to like about this CD if you’re interested in pleasing and well-crafted tonal music, full of charm and life.” I could not say it better, and so I won’t try.
Dubery’s music seems influenced by that long line of British composers whose music is marked by certain idyllic or bucolic charm: Hoist, Warlock, Vaughan Williams, Butterworth being some examples. He writes very well for the voice, which is not surprising as he spent time as an accompanist for many singers. He is capable of more than mood-painting; he composes real melodies, some of which stay in the mind after one hearing. He also varies the mood enough to avoid monotony, which would be possible in this genre.
The highlight of the song cycles here is Observations, set to poems of Walter de la Mare. Dubery wrote works for the music theater stage, and one hears that influence here. The songs demonstrate that in addition to tenderness and reflection, Dubery is capable of displaying wit as well.
The major work on this disc, at least in terms of length, is the string quartet (Cuarteto Iberico), subtitled Ghosts of time past (Los fantasmas de los tiempos pasados), composed in 2005 and revised in 2013. Dubery, in his helpful notes, says “My attraction to Spanish music & dance can be traced back to my childhood when I was taken to see Antonio and his Dancers at the Alhambra Theatre in Durban, South Africa. Drawn to the flamboyant rhythms, colour and vitality of a culture infused with the doloroso and Corazon, I composed this quartet in 2005.” He has captured a Spanish flavor perfectly without losing his own identity. The music is frequently gentle, sometimes wild, extremely varied in its mood while still holding together as a whole. And the melodic inspiration is very strong. Quartets looking for attractive and interesting repertoire to add to their programs could do very well to explore this work. I found myself returning to it repeatedly, and finding new pleasures each time.
All of the performances on the disc are intensely committed and well executed. I found the recordings of the songs to be less than ideally balanced, wishing for a bit more focus on the singer, but aside from that I have no complaint. This is a lovely discovery.