Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Music Webmaster Len Mullenger:

Gadabout (1928); Slow Dance (1928); Cobbler's Hornpipe (1928); There was a most beautiful lady (1928); Triumph Tune (1934); Sarum Sketches (1917); Rhapsody (1919); Jackanapes (1919)
In the High Alps - suite (1925); Lakeland Pictures - eight preludes (1940)
Alan Cuckston (piano)
rec Leeds, March 1991; Ripon, Oct 2000
SWINSTY FEW 123CDr [70.16]

Alan Cuckston, in 1991, set himself a challenge in recording (on cassette, mark you!) a selection of the Howells' solo piano music. By 1994 his largely unknown recording was, in some measure, in competition with Margaret Fingerhut's lucidly recorded Chandos all-Howells CD (CHAN9273). Both the Swinsty disc and the now deleted Howells/Bernard Stevens (Gamut CD54) by Jeremy Filsell have the advantage of variety over the single composer Chandos. Howells is a common factor in the Filsell and Cuckston though the programmes differ. Filsell and Gamut offer Gadabout, Three Pieces and the Sonatina alongside Bernard Stevens' powerful Sonata in one movement (1954) and Aria. The Swinsty has two virtually unknown and surprising sequences by Armstrong Gibbs.

Cuckston (warmly and, perhaps a tad claustrophobically, recorded, especially in the case of Gadabout) presents the brusque Gadabout and Cobler's Hornpipe. The latter has a suggestion of early keyboard about it (we bear in mind that Howells' wrote sequences called Lambert's Clavichord and Howells' Clavichord in which his friends are pictured within) and Rubbra's Farnaby Improvisations. The Finzian 'sleight of hand' of Slow Dance sounds as if the microphone placement had been refined to advantage after Gadabout. In There was a most beautiful lady the 'lady' is Armstrong Gibbs' daughter Anne and makes much of slowest swirling voile effect. Triumph Tune is Graingerish (Country Gardens). The Tune is dedicated to Howells' children, Michael and Ursula. It was Michael's death in 1935 that prompted Howells' Hymnus Paradisi in 1938.

The Sarum Sketches are dedicated to one of the Salisbury Cathedral choirboys, John Stewart. The second of the Sketches is in part a Bainesian list of dreamy caprices. The Arabian Nights movement is sinister capturing the danger of the tales rather than their Victorianised tameness - extremely well done. Rhapsody is almost static in its sleepwalking slow blunder through a nocturnal landscape and Jackanapes is a tipsy brisk stroll.

Armstrong Gibbs' First and Third Symphonies were recorded some years ago by Marco Polo. The Third, The Westmorland, links with the present album, having been composed in, and inspired by, the Lake District. In the High Alps has an insistent theme suggestive of the Alps jutting above the pine wood weighed down with snow. This is half way between high romance and impressionism. The music is surprisingly spiced with a light dusting of dissonance and the Winter Sport movement has a Scottish slant, an opalescence and a Medtnerian sense of the dramatic.

The Lakeland Pictures was written in October 1940 but lost until 1996. The movements carry double titles: mood/picture and place name. Brooding - Thirlmere is a crystalline portrait which is less brooding than you might expect. After Rain - Rydal Beck, a Brahmsian gallop suggestive of waters in lively spate. An Upland Valley - Watendlath treads the fine line between regret and joy. Spring Lambs - Langdale rambles through Handelian dignity, the innocence of a Peter Warlock song and even a hint of de Falla's Nights In The Gardens Of Spain. This is followed by the soft focus sentimentality of Early Autumn - Borrowdale, itself hinting at a Rachmaninov 2 - a hit of the day. Pastoral - Winster is predictably cold while the dark Lonely Grandeur - Wastwater has about it more brooding than Thirlmere. The final piece is Quiet Winter - Tarn Howes which is tinged with the same regret that hangs over Finzi's song In Years Defaced And Lost.

Cuckston characterises all of this music with care and is recorded in an enclosed and warm acoustic.

The variety of the music on this disc is welcome. It also offers some real surprises; particularly in the case of the Gibbs' pieces.

Rob Barnett

Price per CD inclusive of p&p within UK is £11.00
Price per CD inclusive of p&p outside UK: please enquire
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Phone/Fax: 01757 638238
Swinsty Records
Turnham Hall
N Yorks YO8 6ED
United Kingdom

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