King's Herald (1934)
Paradise Rondel (1925)
Pastoral Rhapsody (1923)
One too easily forgets that in his early career Howells wrote a good deal
of orchestral music. All the works in this first volume of Howells' orchestral
music roughly span some fifteen years of his creative life, from 1920 to
King's Herald is the first movement of Pageantry for brass
band written in 1934 for the Belle Vue National Brass Band Contest in Manchester.
Later in 1937 for the coronation of King George VI Howells arranged it for
full orchestra and organ. The orchestral splendour certainly helps, emphasising
its Waltonian swagger. A brilliant opening if ever there was one.
Both the Pastoral Rhapsody and Paradise Rondel superficially
hint at the so-called pastoral school of Vaughan Williams and others. But
again Howells' highly chromatic writing sheds a quite different light on
the English countryside. If some moments are reminiscent of Vaughan Williams
these works have globally very little in common with RVW whose Pastoral
Symphony is stylistically distant from Howells' chromaticism and tearing
dissonances. These pieces are certainly well worth having and one may wonder
at their neglect.
The loss of his only son had a lasting impact on Howells' later life and
work. He wrote or planned several works in memory of Michael. Hymnus
Paradisi, heard years after its actual completion, is the best-known
of them. The slow movement of the Concerto for Strings was also composed
in memory of Elgar and Michael Howells. Howells once contemplated a cello
concerto which was never completed. Sketches for the slow movement seem to
have found their way into Threnody, orchestrated much later by the
late Christopher Palmer. The Fantasia (1936/7) was submitted with
the song cycle In Green Ways for the Oxford D.Mus. This beautiful
work may also have something to do with the projected cello concerto. The
manuscript lay forgotten for years in the Bodleian Library and was brought
to light by the Scottish cellist Gillian Matthews who gave the first performance
The Fantasia is a very beautiful, moving piece. The unquestioned
masterpiece of this collection, it is a large-scale single movement in the
fantasy-mould cherished by Howells and many other British composers (I think
particularly of Bridge's Oration). Moray Welsh gives a beautifully
assured and committed reading of this wonderful work and of the shorter,
but nonetheless moving, Threnody.
Procession started its life as a piano piece and was orchestrated
later. It is by far the best-known piece in this collection. Moreover it
is an object lesson in orchestration. It receives an appropriately vital
reading thus providing for a brilliant ending to the disc.
Hickox conducts fine performances of these unfamiliar pieces and the LSO,
in top form, respond wholeheartedly. I for one am waiting for the second
volume with much anticipation. Unreservedly recommended.