Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Music Webmaster Len Mullenger:


King's Herald (1934)
Paradise Rondel (1925)
Fantasia (1936/7)
Threnody (1935)
Pastoral Rhapsody (1923)
Procession (1920)
Moray Welsh (cello)

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 1937.

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 in 1982.

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.

Hubert Culot

Return to Index

Reviews from previous months

You can purchase CDs, tickets and musician's accessories and Save around 22% with these retailers: - The UK's Biggest Video Store Concert and Show tickets
Musicians accessories
Click here to visit