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CD: Crotchet AmazonUK AmazonUS

Herbert Howells (1892-1983) 
String Quartet No 3 ‘In Gloucestershire’ (1919-20) [35:11]
Sir George Dyson (1883-1964) Three Rhapsodies (1905-12)
No 1: Rhapsody (Allegretto) [10:12] 
No 2: Rhapsody (Lento) [9:24] 
No 3: Rhapsody (Adagio - Allegretto) [8:46]
Divertimenti (Paul Barritt (violin); Rachel Isserlis (violin); Gustav Clarkson (viola); Sebastian Comberti (cello))
rec. 13-14 December 1984, Rosslyn Hill Unitarian Chapel, Hampstead, London. DDD.

CD: Crotchet AmazonUK AmazonUS

Sir George Dyson (1883-1964) Hierusalem
Three Songs of Praise. No 1: Praise1 [2:03]
Three Songs of Praise. No 2: Lauds1 [4:40]
Three Songs of Praise. No 3: A Poet’s Hymn1 [4:25]
Three Choral Hymns. No 1: Morning and Evening1 [4:20]
Three Choral Hymns. No 2: Hymn for a musician1 [2:52]
Three Choral Hymns. No 3: Hymn to the stars1 [4:44]
O praise God in his holiness1 [1:58]
Fantasia and ground bass1 [16:03]
Hierusalem (1956)2 [19:00]
1 Thomas Trotter (organ); 2Valery Hill (soprano);
St Michael’s Singers
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Jonathan Rennert
rec. March 1984, St Mary Magdalene, Paddington, London. DDD.
Experience Classicsonline

When I saw these two CDs on offer in Hyperion’s Please, someone, buy me ... section, which means that no-one has purchased them for some considerable time, I simply had to spring to their defence.  Howells and Dyson may not be flavour of the moment but their music is well worth getting to know; Howells’ In Gloucestershire, the major work on CDH55045, and Dyson’s Hierusalem, the principal item on CDH55046, are both examples of life-enhancing music and it’s criminal to neglect them.

I’m particularly aggrieved because I’ve recently mentioned both CDs in the highest possible terms in reviewing other recordings.  I recommended the CD containing In Gloucestershire in my February, 2009, Download Roundup

I rate In Gloucesterhire one of the most sublime pieces of chamber music that I know; I place it not far below the Debussy and Ravel Quartets, to which I’ve recently been listening in a most recommendable new recording by Quatuor Ebène (Virgin 5 19045 2, with Fauré’s String Quartet).  In some moods I’d even want to hear it in preference to the Debussy or Ravel.  Forget the ‘cowpat’ slurs that were thrown at Vaughan Williams and other representatives of the English pastoral school; this is music to lose yourself in and the performance and recording are exemplary.  The Dyson Rhapsodies are not quite of the same calibre but they are far more than make-weights and they, too, are excellently performed.

Good as Dyson’s Rhapsodies are, it’s Hierusalem on the second CD that qualifies for the epithet ‘life-enhancing’. 

Once again, the performances of all the music on this second disc are exemplary, with Thomas Trotter an excellent accompanist throughout and Valery Hill in superb form in the principal work.  The rest of the music here, dating from the 1930s, is well worth hearing, but the disc is worth the price for Hierusalem, a work of Dyson’s old age.

Neither of these CDs will still be available for the absurd price of £2.80 by the time that you read this review – it would be an even greater crime if no-one bought them at this knock-down rate – but they’re still excellent value at the normal Helios budget price.  In fact, I recently bought CDH55046 to replace my mislaid copy of the original disc.

There’s another Howells recording on the Helios label, a rival version to the Lyrita of the Rhapsodic Quintet, coupled with other works for clarinet and string quartet (CDH55015, Thea King again, with the Britten Quartet).  Don’t let that end up on the unloved list, too, or buy the Lyrita – both are superb.

As always, the brevity of this review reflects the strength of my recommendation.  No more words; just buy, play and enjoy.
Brian Wilson


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