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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]
Forgotten is not far off the mark with regard to these two pianists. Howard-Jones at least has gained a little recognition in recent times for his contribution, alongside Harriet Cohen, to Columbia's planned complete recording of Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier. This was left unfinished for reasons which were partly financial and partly due to Columbia's merger with HMV to form EMI. Many of his other recordings are re-issued here for the first time. Edward Isaacs has fared less well and I welcome this opportunity to hear his recorded performances.
Evlyn Howard-Jones, the fourth of five children, hailed from my home county of Staffordshire. He entered the Royal College of Music on a scholarship on 1892 and studied there with Franklin Taylor, a pupil of Moscheles and Clara Schumann. Benno Schönberger, a pianist who had attended Liszt's masterclasses was a later teacher and, in an even closer link to Liszt, were studies with Eugen D'Albert. The excellent booklet notes give a marvellous potted history of the pianist and outline his repertoire and successful career that saw him in collaboration with musicians of the stature of Thomas Beecham, Lionel Tertis, Henry Wood and Beatrice Harrison.
I wasn't sure what to expect when I put on the first disc of this fascinating set. Without hearing a note I confess that I had formed the impression from snippets heard and read here and there that Howard-Jones' Bach was scholarly and correct but somewhat dry and unbending. How wrong I was; seconds into his Bach and you can hear his simple, natural playing, effortless in its flexibility and execution. Harriet Cohen's recording of the first nine preludes and fugues (APR 7304 review) is beautiful but has some mannered playing and compared to Howard-Jones she is more forceful in bringing out the fugue voices, lacking the genial flow of his playing. I am detecting none of the little finger slips that I notice here and there in Cohen's recording. His Moonlight Sonata continues this unforced playing but at first sounds a little too relaxed and is certainly not sentimental; he dances through the allegretto with just enough stress at accent points and he delivers the presto agitato with ease while his unpublished Rondo in G is a model of poise, with delicious trills and ornaments. He chooses his teacher Eugen D'Albert's reworking of Beethoven's Ecossaises as a jovial encore to his Beethoven group. On the whole the playing here is fresh and unfussy, possibly why it was considered that he delivered scholarly and fastidious profundity in an age of heart on sleeve, sometimes markedly mannered playing. If there is the odd finger slip in his Liszt Waldesrauschen it is of no matter in this agile and atmospheric reading and the sole Brahms item amongst his recordings, the Capriccio in B minor, is as fresh as one could hope leaving one wishing that he had recorded more; he performed the complete piano music in 1933 after all and one of his last recitals was an all Brahms programme. Frederic Delius was a close friend and after many years playing the piano concerto and championing British music in general it is fitting that Howard-Jones had the opportunity to record all the published solo works. The critic who complained about a performance of the concerto in 1919 that he was not always aware of the colour that Delius is getting from the pianoforte perhaps caught the pianist on an off day as these recordings, just 11 minutes of music, sparkle with character and life. The preludes were premiered by Howard-Jones and the first of the three, a lilting impressionist barcarolle was dedicated to him; number two is a sparkling little etude and the third is a song without words that slowly broadens out before fading away to nothing.
Edward Isaacs was born in Manchester, the second of six children. Sir Charles Hallé advised the family that he should follow a career in music. Indeed it was Hallé who initially taught Isaacs at the Manchester Royal College of Music followed by lessons with Clara Schumann pupil Olga Neruda. Again his career is well charted in Jonathan Summers excellent notes (and which include a tantalising reference to a broadcast recording of Isaacs' Piano Concerto by Iris Loveridge that I would love to hear). Like Howard-Jones he gave fewer concerts as he got older but in the case of Isaacs it was due to failing eyesight; he lost his sight completely in 1927 though he still gave the occasional performance including a Beethoven C major Concerto at the Proms the following year.
His recordings are characterised by brisk and at times no-nonsense tempi. This is certainly true of his baroque selections; I'm not sure I have ever heard the Courante from the G major French Suite played quite this fast and all the movements are dispatched in like fashion. In Handel's fantasia the forthright sturdiness of the piece is captured well though his rhythms don't dance like Howard-Jones'. There is no maudlin sentimentality about the Chopin group; the waltzes fairly bounce along, even the A minor waltz from op.34 which in some hands occasionally dawdles and belies its grande valse brilliante title. In the second of the op.64 waltzes Isaacs adopts inner voicing in the final play through the recurring second section in a similar manner to Leopold Godowsky's recordings. The Chopin group include a relative rarity in the Bolero op.19, his single outing in the genre though it fits in quite nicely with his Polonaises. Isaacs gives a vivid, extrovert performance as he does with the posthumous E minor waltz. In the Beethoven Sonata op.13 recorded for Columbia's budget label Regal he is impressive and assured, edging off the tempo just a shade for the second theme of the first movement to good effect. The slow movement has something of Howard-Jones' unforced simplicity. The Tschaikowsky Humoresque that closes this recital is another rarity that acts as a humorous and jolly encore in this context.
This is such a welcome release. Apart from introducing us to Edward Isaacs it also reveals another facet of Howard-Jones' wonderful pianism demonstrating a bigger personality than I had been led to expect. Sound-wise these are bright and clear; there is slightly more surface noise in the Issacs but it is never obtrusive. APR have served British pianism well, adding this release to their wonderful Pupils of Matthay series and York Bowen's early recordings; hopefully more will follow; the name Maurice Cole springs to mind but as APR often demonstrate, there is a world of pianism to explore and discover.
CD1 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]
CD2 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] Franz LISZT
Liebesträume No.3 S.541 No.3 (1850) [4:36] Pyotr TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893) Humoresque Op.10 No.2 (1871-2) [2:25]