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Evlyn Howard-Jones & Edward Isaacs
Two Forgotten English Pianists - The Complete Solo Recordings
rec. 1926-1928
APR 6035 [78:53 + 58:02]

Evelyn Howard-Jones (1877-1951) is known principally for two bodies of recordings. Firstly, there is his contribution to the Delius discography and second his recording of Preludes and Fugues 10 to 17 from the First Book of the Well-Tempered Clavier. This last ambitious undertaking, with the first selections played by the skittish Harriet Cohen, was curtailed. An earlier transfer was available on Biddulph LHW 023, a disc released over 20 years ago, but which housed some ambient sonics and mechanical artefacts and is easily surpassed by the current Mark Obert-Thorn transfer. Some critics at the time preferred Cohen’s rather knockabout approach to rubati to Howard-Jones’ clarity and directness, a performance very much in accordance with later dictates in Bach playing. There’s room for a variety of approaches, of course, including Cohen’s explicitly romanticised leanings, but Howard-Jones proves an elevated Bachian and a superior stylist with exemplary use of the pedal.

The Delius pieces were recorded in April 1929 ahead of the Delius Festival which was held in October though I’m not sure the discs would have been released in time. They were all played by Howard-Jones at the festival, at which the pianist played at half of the concerts (he also performed the Piano Concerto, a work also much performed by Katharine Goodson). The Five Piano Pieces were dedicated to him – the fourth wasn’t recorded because it contains a hummed or violin con sordino part – as was the first of the Three Pieces. He plays these crisp pieces especially beautifully, fully attuned to Delian rubato in every respect. Dutton released these en bloc in their 1993 historic Delius collection but their transfer is over-filtered and impossibly watery. The Three Preludes are on a Danacord disc [DACOCD717] but again the APR is the transfer to have.

To round out your Howard-Jones Delius collection you need the Dutton disc on which he accompanies Albert Sammons in the First (recorded 1929 – never issued at the time) and Second (acoustic, 1924) violin sonatas. You won’t hear more vivid, perceptive piano playing in a Delius string sonata.

He also left behind a strikingly buoyant and no-nonsense Moonlight Sonata, his earliest known solo recording dating from 1926. Direct and noble and taken at a forward moving direction it lacks for nothing in temperament in the finale. He catches the dry wit of the Ecossaises and there is a major addition of the Rondo in G major, Op 51/2, previously unpublished but heard here in full on test pressings recorded in 1927. Trivial scuffs in a few places hardly deflect from his tonal resources and true Beethovenian style. There are single examples of his Liszt – Liebesträume No 3 perhaps inevitably – not as outsize as Lamond – and his Brahms. He was known as a Brahms player so it’s a pity more was not recorded.

This twofer carries the title ‘Two forgotten English pianists’ – they’ve not been forgotten by me, thanks very much – but the second of them, Edward Isaacs, is certainly less well-remembered than Howard-Jones. Isaacs (1881-1953) was born in Manchester where he was to remain a prominent soloist. He went blind by 1927. Unlike the front-ranking Howard-Jones who recorded on Columbia, Isaacs’s discs appeared on the company’s cheap label, Regal, between 1926-28. Three movements from Bach’s French Suite No 5 show a sparkling technician with communicative elan whose speeds sometimes sound breathless. His Handel Fantasia inclines to glibness but the The Harmonious Blacksmith variations are crisp, clean, and unsentimental, though once again, in places, Isaacs is tugging at the tempo leash.

His major recording was of Beethoven’s Pathétique sonata, recorded after he had totally lost his sight and an example of tonal allure and apt gestures. Apart from matters of speed he isn’t an overly demonstrative player, so his slow movement is refined and not indulged. The remainder of his recordings include some Chopin, not least the five waltzes he recorded – Op 64/2 scampers along – which reinforce his polished briskness. The Schubert Moment musical and Liszt Liebesträume No 3 – quite a divergent reading to that of Howard-Jones – show some indulgences of rubato. The Pathétique and Chopin’s Bolero were recorded at his last Regal session and represent the high point of his recording career, with his very best playing. He continued to perform and was to remain an extremely popular broadcast artist. He also made a recording as an accompanist on a Decca 78 a number of years later.

Mark Obert-Thorn’s Regal transfers are just as fine as the Howard-Jones Columbias and Jonathan Summers has written one of his best booklet essays yet. Can I persuade APR to go back even further in time and transfer the recordings of Herbert Fryer and Anderson Tyrer?

Jonathan Woolf

Previous reviews: Stephen Greenbank ~ Rob Challinor

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
The Well-tempered Clavier Bk1 No 10 BWV.855 (1722) [3.40]
The Well-tempered Clavier Bk1 No 11 BWV.856 (1722) [2:26]
The Well-tempered Clavier Bk1 No 12 BWV.857 (1722) [5:08]
The Well-tempered Clavier Bk1 No 13 BWV.858 (1722) [3:49]
The Well-tempered Clavier Bk1 No 14 BWV.859 (1722) [3:42]
The Well-tempered Clavier Bk1 No 15 BWV.860 (1722) [3:55]
The Well-tempered Clavier Bk1 No 16 BWV.861 (1722) [4:16]
The Well-tempered Clavier Bk1 No 17 BWV.862 (1722) [4:15]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Sonata, Op 27 No 2 (1801) [12:59]
Rondo in G, Op 51 No 2 (1796-97) [9:01]
Ecossaises WoO.83 (Eugen d'Albert edition) (1806) [2:42]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Zwei Konzertetüden No 1 Waldesrauschen S.145 No 1 (1862) [3:37]
Liebesträume No 3 S.541 No.3 (1850) [4:01]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Capriccio Op 76 No 2 (1878) [2:59]
Frederick DELIUS (1862-1934)
Dance for harpsichord (1919) [2:18]
Five Piano Pieces (1922-23) [5:53]
1. Mazurka 2. Waltz for a little girl 3. Waltz 4. Toccata
Three Preludes (1923) [3:46]

Johann Sebastian BACH
French Suite in G, No 5 BWV816 excerpts (1722-25?) [5:33]
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Fantasia in C major HWV490 (c.1703-6) [2:41]
Air with 5 variations 'The harmonious blacksmith' from Suite No 5, HWV430 (pre.1720) [2:52]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN
Piano Sonata, Op 13 (1797-8) [14:38]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Moment musical in F minor, D.780 No 3 (1823) [1:54]
Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Bolero in A minor,  Op 19 (1833) [5:58]
Waltz 3 in A minor, Op 34 No 2 (1831) [4:11]
Waltz 6 in D-flat major, Op 64 No 1 (1846-7) [1:44]
Waltz 7 in C-sharp minor, Op 64 No 2 (1846-7) [2:49]
Waltz 13 in D-flat major, Op 70 No 3 (1829) [2:16]
Waltz 14 in E minor Op.posth (1830) [2:44]
Frédéric CHOPIN arr. Franz LISZT
Chants Polonais “My Joys” S.480 No 5 (1857-60) [3:37]
Liebesträume No 3 S.541, No 3 (1850) [4:36]
Pyotr TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Humoresque, Op 10 No 2 (1871-2) [2:25]

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