Howells: Concerto for String Orchestra; Three Dances for Violin and Orchestra Op. 7; Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor

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COMPOSERS: Howells
LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Concerto for String Orchestra; Three Dances for Violin and Orchestra Op. 7; Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor
PERFORMER: Kathryn Stott (piano), Malcolm Stewart (violin); Royal Liverpool PO/ Vernon Handley
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 66610 DDD
Radio 3’s recent celebrations of the centenary of Howells’s birth gave a timely boost to his reputation and disabused those who had thought of him as no more than a shadowy denizen of the organ loft and the choir-stalls. This recording, coupling three of the orchestral works he wrote before the Second World War, is ample proof of his versatility.

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The Concerto for String Orchestra, partly cannibalised from an earlier suite, shows an indebtedness to the Tudor school by way of Vaughan Williams and early Tippett. The resonant acoustic of Liverpool’s Philharmonic Hall gives the strings a velvety sheen, perhaps at the expense of some textural clarity, but there is no lack of light and shade and the performance is well shaped. Tonal and dynamic variety are conspicuous also in the genial Three Dances of 1915, though Malcolm Stewart’s vibrato may be excessive for some, especially in the slow central dance.

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It was the inexplicably hostile reaction to the Second Piano Concerto that, in 1925, left Howells demoralised and unable to compose anything of major importance for nearly a decade. To modern ears it seems easy listening. Kathryn Stott gives it a stylish performance, by turns nimble, serene and dramatic. Wadham Sutton