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Mary Howe (1882-1964)
Violin Sonata (1922)
Ballade Fantasque, for cello and piano (1927)
Three Restaurant Pieces, for violin and piano (1927)
Patria (1932) arr. Jacqueline Skara
Merles de Coulenne, for flute and mezzo (1933)
Song for cello (1940) arr. Jacqueline Skara
Interlude between Two Pieces, for flute and piano (1942)
April Golliver-Mohiuddin (mezzo soprano)
Laura Talbott-Clark (violin)
Meredith Blecha-Wells (cello)
Jacqueline Skora (viola)
Erin K Murphy (flute) and
Pi-Ju Chiang (piano)
rec. 2021, Cornerstone Recording Company, Edmond, USA
No texts
NAVONA NV6432 [66]

A recent review of a Toccata disc of a Mary Howe Songs and Duets album gives some biographical details of her life and career, and I’d refer you there for further information. She was, however, a prolific composer having written some 20 orchestral pieces, three string quartets and much choral and chamber music.

Navona here investigates her ‘music for two’ – sonatas, songs, ballades, written (in the main) for a string instrument and piano in what the label calls ‘the first non-archival recording’ of her Violin Sonata and the duos. As anyone who has had anything to do with their discs will know, Navona, as it does here, generally releases recordings in a card format with stripped back notes. In this case you will get a few paragraphs only, so there’s no discussion of the works. The performers are members of the Oklahoma State University Greenwood School of Music faculty.

The Violin Sonata dates from 1922 when Howe was 40. It’s cast in an impressionistic-rhapsodic form, the violin entering with urgency – Laura Talbott-Clark has a fast vibrato – with fine distribution of material between the fiddle and piano, played by the assured Pi-Ju Chiang. Long-breathed and lyrical, rising to a pitch of intensity, the slow central movement enshrines a jaunty B section with insouciant hints. The finale, meanwhile, flows nicely with a somewhat vocalised quality, a kind of song-without-words cantabile.

The Ballade Fantastique, for cello and piano is again rhapsodic with capricious turns of phrase, not jazzy, exactly - it was composed in 1927 – but certainly demotic in style and content and with suspicions of Ragtime amidst the bold colour. Three Restaurant Pieces promises much from its title and comes from the same year as the Ballade Fantasque. The first is a long-breathed salon Waltz, whilst the central piece is a character study called Melody at Dusk which has an athletic central panel that works well. The final piece is a rather superior reel, fanciful and full of high spirits.

Both the viola pieces have been arranged for the instrument by Jacqueline Skara who is joined by the hard-working Chiang. Patria comes from 1932 (the music, you’ll notice, is programmed by composition date) and is a warm, lyric piece well suited to the viola though it was originally cast for the cello., So, too, is A Song for Cello, where Howe mines a vein of rich lyricism. Merles de Coulenne, for flute and mezzo, comes from 1933. There are no texts, so you’ll either need to rely on the strongly voiced singing of mezzo April Golliver-Mohiuddin - who duets with the agile flautist Erin K Murphy in this six-minute piece – or you can go to Navona’s website and find the text there. Finally, the flautist is joined by Chiang for Interlude between Two Pieces, which dates from 1942. The first movement is impressionistic and darting, the second fresh and lissom and the finale, which starts like a fugato, soon moves off into more dapper territory.

This is an intriguing selection of Mary Howe’s music for two instruments, which includes the voice. The recordings have been well judged, and the performers all acquit themselves well. This is a disc of dedication and commitment and should be commended as such.

Jonathan Woolf

Published: October 14, 2022

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