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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]

This release features two contemporary English pianists who are sadly long-forgotten. Both approached their art in very different ways. Evlyn Howard-Jones (1877-1951) was of an academic bent, which led him to focus on the music of Bach and Brahms. Indeed, the Western Mail in 1934 described him as “… distinguished among pianists for the scholarly and fastidious profundity of his interpretations”. Edward Isaacs (1881-1953) was of a more romantic inclination, and embraced the works of Chopin and Liszt.

Evlyn Howard-Jones entered the Royal College of Music on a scholarship in 1892, aged 15. His teacher was Franklin Taylor, but later he went to Benno Schönberger. He made his London debut accompanying violinist Sam Grimson and was subsequently praised for his technique, tone production, expression and colour range. 1900 was a significant year when he travelled to Germany to study with Liszt pupil Eugen d’Albert. On his return to London he became a professor at the Royal Academy of Music and also opened his own academy in Reading. In addition to teaching he continued to give concerts both at home and overseas. He became a fervent champion of Frederick Delius, visiting him and taking part in the Delius Festival of 1929. APR has unearthed several examples of him performing works by the composer. He also supported British composers, including Bax, Ireland and Goossens. For the Brahms centenary in 1933 he performed the complete piano music over four recitals. It’s a pity we only have the single B minor Capriccio in his discography. The pianist died in 1951 aged 73, having suffered bad health for several years.

The selection of Bach Preludes and Fugues are taken from Book 1 and progress from No. 10 in E minor to No. 17 in A flat major. They were part of a project initiated by Columbia to record a complete cycle of the Well-Tempered Clavier, with contributions from a number of pianists. Harriet Cohen provided Nos. 1 to 9, with 10-17 consigned to Howard-Jones. The recordings took place over two days in February 1930. The project was never realized and eventually brought to a halt because of the stock market crash of 1929 and Columbia’s merger with HMV to form EMI in 1931. Howard-Jones’ approach is far from academic and dull. His smooth legato, clarity of line, beauty of tone and warm cantabile all make for a satisfying result. Phrasing is immaculate, and there’s a fine sense of structure. One comes away thinking that here’s a thoughtful and intelligent musician. Beethoven’s Moonlight is beautifully done. He doesn’t dawdle in the opening movement, but keeps the music moving on, conveying a sense of forward momentum. I must say, it works very well. The finale is a true Presto agitato, with plenty of excitement and thrill. The Rondo in G major is refined, elegant and affectionate.

Liszt’s Waldesrauschen is briskly paced as is the Liebestraum No. 3. In both, the filigree finger work sparkles with gossamer delicacy. It’s pleasing to have a selection of Delius pieces, as his piano works are not that well-known. As a friend and promoter of the composer’s music, the Five Piano Pieces of 1922/23 were dedicated to him, as was the first of the Three Preludes. There are no masterpieces here, but the music is tuneful and imaginatively wrought, and they make a pleasing diversion.

Edward Isaacs learned his trade at the Manchester College of Music from 1894 to 1903. This was followed by a period of study in Germany and Austria. On his return to Britain he made his debut in December 1904 performing Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1 with the Hallé Orchestra under the baton of Hans Richter. This was followed by a tour of Britain to much critical acclaim, being declared "....a pianist of culture and interpretative gifts". He was a composer also and premiered his own Piano Concerto in C sharp minor at the Free Trade Hall, Manchester in 1906.  According to his son, Isaacs fell on some ice in 1923 which resulted in him suffering from a detached retina. His eyesight gradually worsened and he ended up blind. Nevertheless, he continued his career as a pianist, teacher and lecturer and made frequent broadcasts for the BBC.  He died in 1953.

In October 1926 Regal, the budget label of Columbia, invited Isaacs to make some records. The first were of pieces by Bach and Handel. Although he performs them with brisk tempi, the Courante of Bach’s French suite and Handel’s Harmonious Blacksmith sound too rushed and frenetic, yet he doesn’t sacrifice clarity and precision. The most substantial work is Beethoven’s Pathetique, set down two years later on 20 November 1928. It was praised later in the January 1952 issue of the Gramophone magazine as “…..a model interpretation; thoughtful and musicianly without a misplaced note”. The slow movement is particularly fine, not cloying or over-romanticized.

The Chopin group includes two relative rarities, the Bolero in A minor, Op. 19 played with some understated rubato, and No. 5 ‘My joys' of the Chopin/Liszt Six Polish Songs, played with some pearl-like, glistening filigree. The sequence of five Walzes works well, where virtuosity, panache and tonal colour add to the joy. Isaacs makes an impassioned case for the ubiquitous Liebestraume No.3 by Liszt. The disc ends with another rarity, Tchaikovsky's Humoresque, rhythmically dance-like and good-humoured.

Mark Obert-Thorn’s superb restorations breathe new life and vigour into these historical recordings. Jonathan Summers’ detailed biographies and recording’s analyses I found very helpful, as there’s a dearth of information on the internet. This release will grace the shelves of pianophiles worldwide.

Stephen Greenbank

CD 1 [78:53]
Evyln Howard-Jones (piano)
Bach, J S: Prelude & Fugue in E Minor, BWV 855
Bach, J S: Prelude & Fugue in F Major, BWV 856
Bach, J S: Prelude & Fugue in F Minor, BWV 857
Bach, J S: Prelude & Fugue in F-Sharp Major, BWV 858
Bach, J S: Prelude & Fugue in F-Sharp Minor, BWV 859
Bach, J S: Prelude & Fugue in G Major, BWV 860
Bach, J S: Prelude & Fugue in G Minor, BWV 861
Bach, J S: Prelude & Fugue in A-Flat Major, BWV 862
Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 14 in C sharp minor, Op. 27 No. 2 ‘Moonlight’
Beethoven: Rondo, Op. 51, No. 2 in G Major
Beethoven: Ecossaise in E flat major, WoO 83
Liszt: Two Concert Studies, S145 / R6 No. 1, Waldesrauschen
Liszt: Liebesträume, S541 No. 3
Brahms: Klavierstücke , Op. 76, No. 2
Delius: Dance for Harpsichord
Delius: 5 Pieces for Piano (Excerpts)
No. 1, Mazurka for a Little Girl
No. 2, Waltz for a Little Girl
No. 3, Waltz
No. 5, Toccata
Delius: 3 Preludes for Piano
No. 1, Scherzando
No. 2, Quick
No. 3, Con moto

CD 2 [58:02]
Edward Isaacs (piano)
Bach, J S: French Suite No. 5 in G major, BWV816 (excerpts)
I. Allemande
II. Courante
VII. Gigue
Handel: Fantasia in C Major, HWV 490
Handel: Suite in E Major, HWV 430, IV. Air & 5 Variations “The Harmonious Blacksmith”
Beethoven: Piano Sonata No 8 in C Minor, Op. 13 “Pathétique”
Schubert: Moments musicaux, Op. 94. D. 780, No. 3 in F minor
Chopin: Boléro in A Minor, Op 19
Chopin: Waltz, Op. 34, No. 2 in A Minor
Chopin: Waltzes, Op. 64
No. 1 in D-Flat Major
No. 2 in C-Sharp Minor
Chopin: Waltzes Op. 70, No. 3 in D-Flat Major
Chopin: Waltz No. 14 in E minor, Op. post.
Liszt: Chants Polonais after Chopin (6), S480, No. 5, Moja pieszczotka (After Chopin’s Op. 74)
Liszt: Liebesträume, S541 No. 3
Tchaikovsky: Morceaux Op. 10, No. 2

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