Howells: Piano Music, Vol. 1

Matthew Schellhorn (piano) (Naxos)

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CD_8571382_Howells

Howells
Piano Music, Vol. 1 – Phantasy; Harlequin Dreaming; My Lord’s Harewood Galliard; Finzi – His Rest; Summer Idyls; Pavane and Galliard; Petrus Suite
Matthew Schellhorn (piano)
Naxos 8571382   66:01 mins

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When we think of Herbert Howells, it’s still mellifluous sacred music that comes to mind, despite recorded documentation of his achievements in other genres. That documentation is pleasurably expanded by this album filled with recording premieres of piano pieces left in manuscript, ranging from a picturesque suite of 1911 pre-dating his student days (the quaintly spelled Summer Idyls) to the more spartan textures of the <Petrus Suite> [itals], finished in 1973, ten years before his death. Musical influences range equally widely, from imitation Ravel (the impressive Phantasy of 1917) to the old English keyboard masters of pavanes and galliards. Mixed in come enigmatic surprises like Finzi: His Rest, a darkly emotional response to the death in 1956 of Gerald Finzi, fellow composer, friend and rival – a work strewn with gnarled harmonies that hardly signal rest for anyone until, perhaps, the final bars.

On the whole Matthew Schellhorn proves a most sympathetic interpreter, reaching the peak of finesse in the sparkling aqueous ripples of the Phantasy, where he admirably sustains the music’s shape and flow. And if he can’t do much to enliven the bookish Siciliana (1958), compensations keep coming in the spontaneous early magic of ‘Harlequin Dreaming’ and the haunting ‘Near Midnight’ from the Idyls, or the modulated archaisms that suffuse the anxious and muscular Pavane and Galliard (1964).

Schellhorn’s welcome album gives us much to ponder over; not least the possible inner thoughts of Howells himself, a professional public composer with a very private person tucked away inside.

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Geoff Brown