Suite for Orchestra: The Bs;
Three Dances for Violin & Orchestra;
In Green Ways
Lydia Mordkovitch, violin
Yvonne Kenny, soprano
This is the second Chandos volume of Howells' orchestral music.
The suite The Bs has often been mentioned but very rarely heard, if
at all, after its early performances. This piece, written in 1914, is a series
of musical portraits of some of Howells' friends: Ivor Gurney ("Bartholomew"),
Bliss ("Blissy"), Francis Warren ("Bunny"), Arthur Benjamin ("Benjee") and
of Howells himself ("Bublum"). Incidentally Howells allots himself the lion's
share since 'his' movement is by far the longest though it contains some
of the finest music of the whole work. The lament evoking Gurney in his early
days is a beautiful musical landscape and its ending is quite magical. "Blissy"
and "Bunny" were somewhat recomposed in 1948 as the diptych Music for
a Prince. The original version of "Blissy" (Scherzo in Arden in
the 1948 reworking) is much more unpredictable, capricious and a good deal
less disciplined, but still a fine piece of music. On the whole I find this
colourful work most enjoyable and attractive. It is a real find and a jolly
good piece of music. One of its most striking features is the orchestral
mastery of Howells even at this early stage of his career.
The other novelty is the orchestral version of In Green Ways which
Howells submitted for his doctorate. Howells' orchestration is again superb
and adds brilliance to what is one of his finest song cycles. If the orchestral
writing of The Bs may still show some influences, e.g. Stravinsky,
that of In Green Ways is vintage Howells with a quite remarkable assurance
and sureness of touch. How such a work could have lingered unheard for such
a long time, is the umpteenth mystery of the musical world. The Fantasia
for cello & orchestra is yet another of these mysteries.
The Three Dances for violin and orchestra have been recorded before
(Malcolm Stewart/RLPO/Handley HYPERION CDA 66610 and may thus be somewhat
better known. It is a short suite of carefree, though at times bitter-sweet,
vignettes of great charm. An early piece but still worth a hearing. I find
the Hyperion reading marginally better for Stewart and Handley opt for slightly
quicker tempi and their reading is consequently somewhat lighter than
Mordkovitch's and Hickox's. It seems to me that Mordkovitch and Hickox attempt
to give some more weight to what is primarily a dreamy nostalgic work.
Nothing really serious to deter anyone from the present release which is
very fine and should appeal to all lovers of Howells' music. It has much
to offer: rare works in very fine performances (that of The Bs I find
particularly beautiful), superb warm recording and excellent notes by Lewis
Foreman. Unreservedly recommended.