HERBERT HOWELLS: “The Complete Works for Violin and Piano” [TrackList follows] – Rupert Marshall-Luck, violin/ Matthew Rickard, p. – EMR CD019-20 (2 discs), TT: 134:57 [Distr. by Allegro] (9/12/14) ****:
This is such a rewarding collection of some of the loveliest violin music you have probably never heard of. To be fair, Herbert Howells is relatively well known to fans of early twentieth-century English music (and there are so many fine examples!) but mainly for just a few works.
Howells was first, and foremost, a church organist and choral composer and studied with Stanford and Parry, while also growing up following assiduously the music of Edward Elgar. It is, in fact, his sacred works that earned him the greatest acclaim; most notably his Requiem and the beautiful Hymnus paradisi. His chamber music is also quite lovely and well worth getting to know. Howells had the advantage and good fortune of living through most of the twentieth century and listening and absorbing. After an early scare with a form of cancer, he lived to the amazing age of ninety-one. This collection, performed with a clear dedication and sense of style by Rupert Marshall-Luck and Matthew Rickard, serves well for Howells’ devotees as well as the uninitiated.
I like nearly any well-written and emotive string works and so I will not make any attempt to compare these works to each other; only to state that they are all impressive and lovely to listen to. The collection does contain a few oddities worth commenting on. First the 1911 Sonata for Violin and Piano in B minor is not labeled Howells’ Sonata No. 1. That was declared by the composer to be his 1918 Sonata in E major, Opus 18. This is due in part to the 1911 work lying around unperformed until the present performers discovered it. Additionally, it is speculated that the young Howells wrote this while still living at his parents’ house and the later Sonata in E represents the composer’s attempts to recreate his style, maybe choosing to forget the earlier work purposefully. There is also an altered opening in the B minor Sonata; owing to Howells wanted to change some implied harmonies. Marshall-Luck and Rickard perform the altered opening (measures 18-21, apparently) in the full performance and offer the original rendition as a “bonus” track.
One of the real pleasures in this collection is the inclusion of the “unexpected” pieces, not that the three Sonatas or the Three Pieces are exactly famous. For example, the very impressionistically titled Slow Air from 1927 is a short, odd but lovely work. That, plus the other three smaller works herein (Slow Air, Cradle Song, Lento, Assai Espressivo and Country Tune) were all written for possible inclusion as a set and – in the case of Slow Air and Country Tune – as adjudication pieces for the Royal Academy of Music.
As I mentioned, I enjoyed all these works and cannot really evaluate one to the other. If I had to pick my favorite, I might choose the second Sonata in E-flat; especially for its lush Lento middle movement. This collection would appeal most to those already a fan of the work of Herbert Howells, but also to violinists looking for some high quality lesser known repertoire. Kudos to Rupert Marshall-Luck and Matthew Rickard for their dedicated performances and the artistic vision of the English Music Festival.
TrackList:CD 1 = 1-4. Sonata for Violin and Piano in B minor 5. Slow Air 6. Country Tune 7-10. Sonata for Violin and Piano No.2 in E-flat major 11. Sonata for Violin and Piano in B minor – alternate opening CD 2 = 1-4. Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 1 in E major 5. Cradle Song 6. Lento, Assai Espressivo 7-9. Sonata for Violin and Piano No.3 in E minor 10.-12. Three Pieces for Violin and Piano