ALBUM TITLE: Howells: The Complete Works for Violin and Piano
WORKS: Violin Sonatas Nos 1-3; Violin Sonata in B minor (1911); Slow Air; Country Tune; Cradle Song; Lento, assai espressivo; Three Pieces for Violin and Piano
PERFORMER: Rupert Marshall-Luck (violin), Matthew Rickard (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: EMR CD019-20
Herbert Howells is too easily dismissed as a minor master of the English pastoral school. True, one of his Three Pieces (1917) is a Pastorale beginning with a lilting melody, and another celebrates a beloved Gloucestershire hill with a simple folksong-like tune. But the third, unexpectedly, is based on a Russian lament. And his First Violin Sonata (1918) is no rural rhapsody but a masterpiece of concision and continuity, while the Third (1923) has a breadth and muscularity allying it to the late Romantic tradition.
These three works constitute almost Howells’s entire published music for violin and piano. However, this double album adds the withdrawn Second Sonata (1917), complete with the scherzo that Howells removed and inserted into the Third, several miniatures, and an ambitiously overblown Sonata in B minor, full of Elgarian echoes, which won the 18-year-old boy a scholarship to the Royal College of Music. Rupert Marshall-Luck plays with reliable tuning and magically ethereal tone in the upper register, though with an unvaryingly intense vibrato; Matthew Rickard is equal to Howells’s challenging piano textures. The recording is mastered at a high level; lowering the volume removes initial impressions of an unpleasantly close recording.
You can find the three numbered Sonatas (without No 2’s scherzo) and the Three Pieces on a budget Helios disc, played by Paul Barritt and Catherine Edwards at generally faster tempos and with a greater sense of light and shade. But this set offers a comprehensive picture of a significant body of work.