If I was forced to choose one composer above all others to name as my favourite I would be torn between Vaughan Williams, Havergal Brian and Edmund Rubbra.
There is a something about Rubbra's music which I find intensely moving. I have always found that 'something' difficult to define or explain. Nothing about the music is flashy or overtly dramatic but there is, in my opinion, a quite sublime intensity and an understated passion which undoubtedly stemmed from Rubbra's own personal religious and spiritual convictions. Those imbue his music with a a purity and quiet seriousness which elevates it above so much else in 20th century music. I cannot fail to listen to Rubbra without being held in its spell.
That applies to all of the eleven symphonies, the concertos and the wonderful unaccompanied choral music. Rubbra has been criticised for a certain thickness of scoring and it is only fair to acknowledge that, to a certain extent, that criticism is justified in the 1st symphony and (perhaps) the 2nd. He has also been accused of a lack of obvious 'colour' in his music-whatever exactly that may mean.
It is certainly true that if one were to listen to Rubbra's music with less than full attention the impression might be of a lack of incident, a 'greyness' I suppose. But Rubbra's sound world is one which does reward real committment on the part of the listener because there is little similar in British music of its time. The lumping together of Rubbra, Alwyn, Lennox Berkeley, Fricker and Rawsthorne by Malcolm MacDonald in his book on Havergal Brian as examples of 'Cheltenham Symphony' composers was an error which he himself now acknowledges.
Rubbra drew his influences from Tudor polyphony but also from a wide range of literary sources including medieval Latin and Chinese poetry. He certainly deeply admired both Brahms and Vaughan Williams and there are echoes of both in his music. He was undoubtedly a very British composer yet it is difficult to say that the music sounds much like many other British composers.
My own personal favourites include the 4th(which has the most magical and sublime opening pages of any symphony of the last century), the 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th 'Hommage a Teilhard de Chardin' and the big choral 9th 'Sinfonia Sacra'. All have, of course, been recorded by Hickox on Chandos but there are individual recordings by Boult, Handley and Del Mar which also illuminate particular symphonies. There are modern recordings of the Violin Concerto, the Viola Concerto and the Soliloquy for Cello and Orchestra but a modern recording of the wonderful Piano Concerto is desperately needed.
Rubbra's music will never-I fear-have widespread appeal or be a Proms favourite because it does require such a degree of concentration. It is not difficult music per se but it does have a profound 'stillness' which is ultimately so rewarding for those prepared to give it the attention it undoubtedly merits.