HOWELLS Violin Sonatas Nos 1-3. Cradle Song
Since the pioneering recording of Howells’s three violin sonatas, Opp 18, 26 and 38, by Paul Barritt and Catherine Edwards in 1993, one further recording of the Third Sonata on Naxos in 2004 and two of the First Sonata on Centaur and the British Music label have appeared. This recording on EM Records with Rupert Marshall-Luck and Matthew Rickard brings all of the composer’s violin repertoire together for the first time and includes not only all the miniatures (some of which are world premieres) but also Howells’s early student Sonata in B minor, composed for his portfolio submitted to Stanford for an RCM Foundation Scholarship (replete with the alternative original opening and helpfully engineered in order to be heard in both versions). The assurance of this work (1911) of over 40 minutes, albeit overlong and typical of youthful over-ambition, is nevertheless impressive, and its sweeping lyricism, redolent of Elgar and Parry, is uninhibited and abundantly captured here by Marshall-Luck, especially in the tender middle movement.
The structurally more complex and concentrated First Sonata (1918) of less than 18 minutes is an exercise in thematic metamorphosis which is given a spacious reading by both performers. I am perhaps a little more persuaded by Barritt’s more languid opening but there is much in the élan of the playing that is intense and persuasive, not least in the truly heart-bursting meno mosso. The Second Sonata (1917), which actually dates from a year earlier than the First, is presented here in its original, more balanced four-movement version edited by Paul Spicer. A fine work and another product of that golden period of Howells’s output between 1916 and 1920 (and what fecundity!), it contrasts with the more restless and, in my view, less successful Third Sonata, which, for all its thematic tautness and neo-classical ‘wiriness’, lacks the harmonic warmth and control of its two predecessors. The various miniatures are delicious, especially ‘Pastorale’, the touching pathos of ‘“Chosen” Tune’ (both from the Three Pieces) and the hypnotic Cradle Song. The recorded sound is splendidly generous, while Marshall-Luck and Rickard evince a real sympathy for this music in heartfelt interpretations that give voice to Howells’s personal and much underrated genius for chamber music.