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Howells: Piano Concerto No 2, Concerto For Strings, Dances

Release Date: 10/11/2005 
Label:  Helios   Catalog #: 55205   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Herbert Howells
Performer:  Kathryn StottMalcolm Stewart
Conductor:  Vernon Handley
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 9 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

My first acquaintance with the music of Herbert Howells (1892?1983) was by way of a vinyl recording on Lyrita of the Rhapsodic Quintet for clarinet and string quartet. Recordings of music by Howells and many of his compatriots were rather scarce. Nonetheless, I kept hoping that some recording company beyond Lyrita would have an epiphany and champion these little-known composers.

At London?s Royal College of Music, Howells was considered the most brilliant of the pupils of Charles Villiers Stanford, and was even Read more referred to by his mentor as his ?son in music.? But why has Howells?s music failed to make the grade? Perhaps it was due to Howells?s extreme self-criticism, for if a single negative word was spoken regarding one of his works, it was withdrawn. Then there?s the almost iconic status to which Howells was raised by Stanford. Finally, Howells did not have his finger on the pulse of the English concert-going public; his feeling that they no longer possessed ?room for symphonic length? was far from the mark.

Howells?s maturation resulted in an idiom that was the result of a number of influences, including Tudor-influenced modal counterpoint, Elgar, and Vaughan Williams. However, like Frank Bridge, Howells was profoundly affected by the slaughter of the Great War and again like Bridge, he was visibly moved by the loss of a dear friend. Unlike Bridge, whose easy-going Romantic style became more progressive and prickly in the wake of the conflict, Howells remained true to his Romantic tendencies, but his expression grew darker, especially after the death in 1935 of his nine-year-old son from polio.

The music on this disc was written between 1915 and 1938, the light-hearted Three Dances being the earliest and the Concerto for Strings being the last. Written for George Whittaker, an undergraduate friend at the RCM, the dances are sunny and gregarious, far removed from what would become Howells?s musical syntax. A decade later came the second piano concerto, a darker and structurally more adventurous work that raised a number of critical eyebrows. Finally, the Concerto for Strings?partially based on earlier music from 1917?was begun in 1935, completed three years later, and holds a central movement that is a dual tribute to Elgar and Howells?s son, Michael.

This Helios CD was originally released by Hyperion in 1992 on CDA 66610. At the time, one of my distinguished Fanfare colleagues called it ?yet another definitive and indispensable addition to the recorded repertoire of British music.? You?ll get no argument on that evaluation from me, but I?ll proudly add that these performances are realized with energy, sympathy, and affection. The assured and insightful readings are a model of their kind by way of purpose, not to mention emotional satisfaction; they serve to illuminate these works as light accentuates the facets of a fine gem.

Those who know the music of Howells and missed this CD in its original incarnation will certainly want to snap it up this time around, as it belongs on the shelf of every Anglophile.

FANFARE: Michael Carter
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Works on This Recording

Concerto for Piano no 2 in C minor, Op. 39 by Herbert Howells
Performer:  Kathryn Stott (Piano)
Conductor:  Vernon Handley
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1924; England 
Concerto for Strings by Herbert Howells
Conductor:  Vernon Handley
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1939; England 
Dances (3) for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 7 by Herbert Howells
Performer:  Malcolm Stewart (Violin)
Conductor:  Vernon Handley
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1915; England 

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