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CD Review

Herbert Howells

  • Piano Concerto #2 in C minor, Op. 39
  • Concerto for Strings
  • Three Dances for Violin & Orchestra, Op. 7
Kathryn Stott, piano
Malcolm Stewart, violin
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Vernon Handley
Hyperion Helios CDH55205 69m DDD
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This disc was originally issued by Hyperion in 1992 (CDA66610) and it proved to be an instant hit, not only for the quality of its sound and presentation, but also for the marvellous music it contains.

Herbert Howells born in 1892 was a brilliant student and as his career progressed, he could command great admiration from such composers as Stanford, his composition teacher and Bliss. Somehow, his music fell into neglect and it was only shortly before his death in 1983, that public opinion started to appreciate anew the technical mastery and gift of melody of this great composer.

Howells was a very sensitive and sincere man, and both these qualities are very evident in his works, particularly those written after 1935, when he lost his only son to polio. Two of the works on this disc, the Three Dances for Violin and Orchestra (1915) and the Second Piano Concerto (1925) had to wait till 1989 to be heard a second time. The 1938 Concerto for String Orchestra fared better if only for its similarity to Vaughan William's and Elgar's string music.

All the pieces on this programme are a testimony to Howell's flow of invention and expressive impact, leaving one wondering how on earth such music was allowed to almost whither away into oblivion. The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic give impassioned and committed performances, while Vernon Handley's devotion and admiration for the composer is reflected in his extraordinary ability to bring out all the colourful effects of these scores.

Copyright © 2006, Gerald Fenech