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Herbert HOWELLS (1892-1983)
King's Herald, for full orchestra and organ from the suite Pageantry (1934) [4:24]
Paradise Rondel (1925) [9:32]
Fantasia for cello and orchestra (1936/7) [17:23]
Threnody for cello and orchestra, orchestrated Christopher Palmer (1935) [9:02]
Pastoral Rhapsody (1923) [12:16]
Procession (1920) [4:37]
Moray Welsh, cello
London Symphony Orchestra/Richard Hickox
Rec: All Saints Church, Tooting, London, 8-9 February 1995
CHANDOS CHAN 9410 [60:15]

The first thing you notice is the acoustic of All Saints Church which is allowed to bloom in fullness and resonance. It is a cathedral effect although with echo-blur under control.

King's Herald from the brass band suite Pageantry is tumultuously and densely ebullient. The opulence is crowned by the organ’s underpinning and by horns rolling and roaring (e.g. at 3.30). Howells certainly makes a glorious noise though I am not sure that this is lyrically memorable. Contrast this very public ceremonial with the Paradise Rondel which is a work from the heart. Paradise is a Cotswold village and of it Howells said: ‘a good walking place full of tunes for those who can hear them’. This is a very Elgarian sentiment and the walking references chime perfectly with the wanderings of Vaughan Williams, Holst and Gurney. The Paradise Rondel is a gentle rural fantasy - more impressionistic and ecstatic than Vaughan Williams; a better linkage is to Butterworth's Shropshire Lad, Hadley's One Morning in Springtime and Finzi's Severn Rhapsody - or further afield to the sustained lyricism of Josef Suk's Ripening and A Summer's Tale. Once again there are some densely magnificent and thrusting climaxes.

Then come two works for cello and orchestra. The Fantasia is often just the other side of the same lichen-hung river as Frank Bridge's Oration (11:47) though without Bridge's grieving caustic eloquence and certainly without his extremes of asperity. The work encloses a soliloquising episode of discontent between animated and densely active - prelude and epilogue. The Threnody was to have been the slow movement of a Cello Concerto. The concentrated grieving manner is deeply impressive more so than in the case of the Fantasia. The angry emotional cargo of the piece occasionally recalls the Barber Adagio not least at the vehement climax at 5.18.

There is a kinship between the Paradise Rondel and the even more substantial Pastoral Rhapsody. As ever with Howells the French Horns add a radiance throughout ... often subtly. The skein of sound is related to Vaughan Williams’ Pastoral Symphony, another work of the 1920s. Similar mood-idylls can be found from the pens of Finzi (Severn Rhapsody), Bax (Spring Fire, Summer and The Happy Forest), Delius and even Ludolf Nielsen. I have already mentioned Josef Suk. The difference here is that Howells’ distinctive gift for movement and flow and his use of folksong is always tasteful and avoids ‘the smocks and straw’ (6.23). Indeed when he grasps a climactic moment one can see linkages with Bridge's Enter Spring (8.15) and Foulds' April-England. Here reflective-idyllic music frames more animated action.

Procession is dedicated to Arthur Benjamin and is evocative of marching feet though there is no sense of khaki or field grey. This is a very colourful, almost Rimskian, piece complete with orchestral piano, harp and xylophone. Its extroversion makes it feel more like Bliss than Howells but then you might say the same of King's Herald.

This is a stunning recording. The music is rewarding and varied. Do not miss this sleeper in the catalogue especially if you have any feel for the Howells who is here on display both in intimacy and in public celebration.

Rob Barnett

see also review by Hubert Culot

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