The 32-minute suite
presents five of Howells RCM friends
‘pictured within’. There is a delight
in creation in this music and the composer’s
self-awareness of powers and confidence
at high noon. The idiom is a little
like Vaughan Williams but always brighter
and more ecstatically impressionistic.
Bublum is Howells himself - the composer
like Strauss, Elgar and Holbrooke not
shrinking from self-portraiture. The
music is alive with bustle and delirium.
It catches a milieu unknowingly on the
edge of events that would tread down
a generation, destroy many of the friends
and transform the others. Bartholomew
is Gurney - this movement should surely
be played as you read Michael Hurd's
biography. The picture is one of pensiveness
and lyrical gentleness. The micro-scherzo
Blissy refers to Arthur Bliss and its
cheery ebullience hints at Bliss's music.
Bliss was to find some release from
the wartime nightmares in his Symphony
Morning Heroes. Bunny was Francis
Purcell Warren, a reputedly excellent
violist. Warren was killed at the battle
of Mons and Howells wrote, as a loving
memorial, his Elegy for viola, string
quartet and string orchestra. This is
glorious in the hands of Boult (on a
Lyrita LP SRCS 69, never reissued, wouldn’t
you know) but also very good with Hickox's
on Chandos CHAN 9161. The Benjee movement
refers to the irrepressible Arthur Benjamin
who himself wrote a Pastoral Rhapsody
for string quartet and who flew
for the RFC. He was finally shot down
over enemy trenches and imprisoned in
Germany. The friends seem arm in arm
in the final moments the world at their
all-conquering and unknowing feet: a
‘Testament of Youth’ indeed.
The Three Dances
are from 1915. The first and last
are folksily eager and bright-eyed,
sounding at times like Latvian folk
music as in Janis Ivanovs Violin Concerto.
This work is not as dry as RVW’s Concerto
Academico or Holst's Double Concerto;
certainly not as desiccated as the
outer movements of the Finzi Violin
Concerto (Chandos, Tasmin Little). It
is a closer kin to the RVW Lark Ascending
and to Julius Harrison's Bredon
Hill (how long O Lord how long?).
The quasi lento is deeply poignant
music reaching towards the profundity
and joy-in-tears best conveyed by Finzi's
The orchestral cycle
In Green Ways is given plenty
of operatic ‘welly’ by Yvonne Kenny.
I wondered whether this was quite the
sensitive approach the words demanded
especially in Under The Greenwood
Tree. But then the first song is
one of extroversion and excitement.
It is followed by the ‘centre of gravity’
of the cycle the murmuring soliloquising
pastoral philosophising of James Stephens
Goat Paths. Hearing the climactic
statement of the words ‘to the deeper
quietude’ which looks to the shattering
expressive climaxes of Hymnus Paradisi.
Merry Margaret glints and swoons
in rapturous melisma. The orchestral
piano ripples too paralleling Corydon’s
Dance and Scherzo - In Arden.
Wanderers Nightsong might almost
refer to Ivor Gurney's nocturnal pilgrimages
across the Gloucestershire and Cotswold
fields - a touch of Samuel Barber here
too. Intriguing that Goethe, a German
poet, should be an acceptable voice
in the depths of 1915. The last song
recaptures the brilliance of Scherzo
- in Arden.
As the Pastoral
Rhapsody and the Threnody were
the gems of the first volume the highlights
here are Goats Path, the lento
from the Three Dances and the
prescient Bartholomew lament
from The Bs.
for pursuers of the English pastoral
vein: stunningly performed and recorded.
see also review
by Hubert Culot