HOWELLS From Salisbury
Gramophone readers may have listened to a piece of music and experienced ‘love at first hearing’. Other works might need more effort, and even Howells’s most devout fans would admit that some of the music on this CD makes for demanding listening. In Flourish for a Bidding, Rhapsody No 2 and the outer movements of Organ Sonata No 2, the rapid polyphonic writing and astringent harmony may only be appreciated after repeated hearings. Intrata No 2 and the First and Third Rhapsodies are more approachable with their rich, slightly French-flavoured harmonies. They evoke the picturesque world of British cathedrals, with their handsome architecture and glorious surroundings.
Full marks to David Newsholme for his imaginative programming of Howells’s lesser-known organ music alongside some of the best pieces. In my view, Rhapsody No 2 and the Second Sonata are among Howells’s greatest works. Aside from a few misreadings of accidentals, Newsholme’s performances are very good, and his rhythmic articulation goes some way towards clarifying the busy textures in faster passages. Sensibly, his tempi are a little slower than Howells’s metronome markings and speed indications, taking into account Salisbury Cathedral’s spacious acoustic. Its four-manual, 65-stop Willis organ is ideal for this repertoire and Gary Cole’s superb recording does it proud. Listeners and organists who enjoy Howells’s distinctive sound world will find this a rewarding CD.