An Englishman in Italy - British Piano Music Inspired by Italy
Christopher Howell (piano)
*Ermanno de Stefani (piano II)
rec. Studio L'Eremo, Lessona, Italy, April-July 2011; 14 January 2012. DDD
SHEVA COLLECTION SH056 [76:43 + 70:04]

Francis BACHE (1833-1858)
Souvenirs d'Italie, op.19 [40:23]
William WALLACE (1814-1865)
La Gondola - Souvenir de Venise (Nocturne) [4:08]
Ange sě Pur - Romance de "La Favorite", transcribed [4:33]
Fantasia de Salon sur Motifs de Lucrezia Borgia [4:42]
Sydney SMITH (1839-1859)
I Pifferari - Musette Moderne, op.183 [3:14]
Siesta - Reverie, op.180 [5:52]
Sérénade Vénitienne, op.201 [7:11]
Danse Napolitaine - Morceau de Concert, op.33 [3:48]
William WOLSTENHOLME (1865-1931)
Venice [2:52]
Arthur SOMERVELL (1863-1937)
Tarantella in A minor [1:16]
Maude WHITE (1855-1937)
From the Ionian Sea - Four Sketches [11:04]
Edward GERMAN (1862-1936)
Tarantella [2:49]
Harry FARJEON (1878-1948)
Three Venetian Idylls, op.20 [10:59]
Barcarolle [4:25]
*Two Italian Sketches [4:51]
Frank MERRICK (1886-1981)
Tarantella, op.5 [4:05]
Ernest Markham LEE (1874-1956)
Nights in Venice [10:21]
Eaton FANING (1850-1927)
Sorrento - Danza in modo di Tarantella [4:02]
Henry GEEHL (1881-1961)
The Bay of Naples - Italian Suite [11:01]
Ronald SWAFFIELD (1889-1962)
Rapallo [3:22]
Cyril SCOTT (1879-1970)
Tarantula [1:45]

If prizes were awarded for musical enterprise I am sure that Christopher Howell and Sheva would be regular winners. Recent discs that have come my way have included the organ music of Samuel Wesley and songs by lesser known Italian composers. These follow discs devoted to Cyril Scott, Harold Craxton and Stanford. However the present set surely beats them all. I had known of the many German composers inspired by Italy from Mendelssohn to Henze but it is a surprise that something similar might apply to British composers with a fascinating succession of Suites and individual pieces, including many - arguably too many - Tarantellas and Barcarolles.
The first “item” is in fact the longest piece here, a Suite of eight pieces by Francis Edward Bache, a pianist and composer whose life was cut short by tuberculosis and who left only a small musical legacy. It includes some excellent chamber music recorded by Dutton. The influence of Mendelssohn is obvious and unsurprising in any English composer of that time as is the more general impact of the generic salon style of the period. The music is nonetheless varied, inventive and enjoyable, and for me represents the main discovery in this set. The items by Wallace are as innocently showy and entertaining as recent Naxos discs of his piano music have led us to expect. Sydney Smith is a name that often crops up in Victorian albums of piano music but who is rarely encountered in performance. Again his music is essentially simply showy and entertaining.
The music on the second disc comes from a later period and includes several names better known for their educational pieces or as performers. It is all idiomatically laid out for the instrument and pleasant for the listener but I must admit that only occasionally was the music more than that. For much of the time I kept being reminded of sitting in one of Betty’s tea shops when one of their better pianists was on duty - Yorkshire readers will understand the allusion. The items by Maude Valérie White and Harry Farjeon are perhaps the most interesting and at worst it is certainly worthwhile to have the chance to hear music by composers otherwise unlikely to be more than names to the listener.
The listener’s enjoyment is greatly enhanced by the extensive and useful notes by Christopher Howell. The set as a whole sheds useful light on an interesting and previously unexplored corner of British music. It is hard to imagine what the next project might be but I certainly look forward to it with considerable anticipation of pleasure.
John Sheppard
An interesting and previously unexplored corner of British music.

Byzantion has also listened to this disc
In this generous double disc release by independent Italian label Sheva, the reliable English pianist Christopher Howell performs a selection of mainly shortish pieces that owe their creation to artistic inspiration originating in Italy. The CD title and subtitle are slightly at odds with each other nation-wise, but most of the featured composers are in fact English, and those that are not certainly have strong ties with England.
There are no undiscovered masterpieces in Howell's balmy, tarantella-peppered recital: with one or two exceptions, the composers of these pieces owe what success they achieved more to hard work than genius. The majority of items are in any case under five minutes long - in fact it would not be unjust to describe many of them as pretty salon pieces. Tempo is usually slowish to moderately lively, technical level of the writing well within the reach of a competent amateur. Yet many tunes turn up that are halfway decent at worst, and memorably evocative at best, if not necessarily of Italy.
Maude White's From the Ionian Sea, Ronald Swaffield's Rapallo and all three works by Harry Farjeon (brother of 'Morning Has Broken' Eleanor) are among the many quite-high-spots of Howell's light, lithe programme. Of the various Tarantellas, Frank Merrick's is the most musically interesting. Francis Bache's Souvenirs d'Italie takes up almost a third of the total minutes available, a bold if lopsided inclusion by Howell. Bache was killed by tuberculosis before he reached 25 and his Souvenirs, a suite of eight Italianate character pieces, are imbued with a youthful spirit not always matched by originality. Nevertheless, a mellifluous forty minutes' worth of listening is guaranteed.
Italy-based Howell has already recorded numerous CDs for Sheva, both as pianist and organist - see this recent review for further detail. He has even given a recital of his very own pieces (review). This latest addition to his discography may not contain the most inspiring or inspired music, but Howell treats it respectfully and makes a sympathetic case for many pieces that went down with the sad demise of amateur piano playing.
Sound quality is pretty good. More importantly, Sheva have discontinued their bad habit evident on some earlier discs of clipping the ends of tracks. There are one or two very minor editing joins that ought not be there, but otherwise these are well-edited discs. The booklet is a low-cost affair, but Howell's informative notes run to several pages, albeit only in English, and not always explaining the Italian connection of some of the pieces - Sydney Smith's I Pifferari being the most obvious apparent anomaly.

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