WORKS: Symphony No. 4; Symphony No. 10 (Sinfonia da camera); Symphony No. 11
PERFORMER: BBC National Orchestra of Wales/Richard Hickox
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 9401 DDD
Richard Hickox continues to promote areas of the repertoire which have been neglected for too long. Now he adds Howells and Rubbra to the impressive list of British composers he has championed, supported by excellent recorded sound and first-rate playing from two fine orchestras.
Herbert Howells’s reputation rests chiefly on his religious music, but he was also a master of other genres, including the orchestra. However, owing to ‘a mixture of sensitivity and arrogance’ (Lewis Foreman), he never promoted his orchestral works, with the result that all but one of these six pieces are receiving their first recordings. Eloquent and sometimes stirring, the music’s expressive range is wide, offering discoveries which extend our knowledge of a composer much loved but only partly understood.
Edmund Rubbra is rightly described in Robert Saxton’s booklet note as a figure ‘of vision, integrity and sustained achievement’. More than thirty years separate his Fourth Symphony (1940-2) from the Tenth and Eleventh, but the same priorities, the same personality remain. The noble Fourth is arguably Rubbra’s masterpiece, while the final symphony, No. 11, here receives its first recording. Well did he describe it as ‘the culmination of all my symphonies, compressed into one movement’. Terry Barfoot