Sonority it is - sonority without noise - which is the greatest abiding power of the string medium. In a world of sounding brass and tinkling cymbal and of noise magnified to the nth degree, this is it - sonority without noise - that marks the supreme contribution made by string music to the fund of our musical enchantment.Despite those words being spoken in 1943 by Herbert Howells in a BBC radio talk they still ring true in our world of tinkling iPods and music amplified to the nth degree. If Howells is remembered at all today it is for his sublime choral masterpiece Hymnus Paradisi. But stereotyping Howells as a choral composer is a mistake because he wrote some very fine music for strings. Chandos has just done us a huge favour by re-releasing a budget priced CD of Howells' music for strings with Richard Hickox conducting the City of London Sinfonia*. This includes the inexplicably overlooked 1938 Concerto for String Orchestra which was composed in the same year as Hymnus Paradisi and, like the choral work, is a tribute to Howells' only son who died tragically young. The composer acknowledges the influence of Elgar and Vaughan Williams in the Concerto but it also has more contemporary resonances, and if you like Tippett's Concerto for Double String Orchestra you will like the Howells. But, to put that comparison into perspective, bear in mind that the Tippet work was premiered in April 1940, while the Howells Concerto was given its first performance in December 1938. Sir Adrian Boult gave the first performance of the Howells with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, but it then fell out of the repertoire until Sir Adrian revived it in a Hallé concert in 1974.
Much is being made elsewhere of the problems associated with transferring curatorship of EMI's classical catalogue to Warner, but little is being made of the magnificent endeavours of a few dedicated classical adepts to keep treasures from the EMI catalogue available; the results of their endeavours include the Boult 11 CD From Bach to Wagner box which I wrote about last year. My recent post about Sir Malcolm Sargent generated a surprising amount of interest and now my EMI/Warner source tells me - sorry, but I can't resist saying you read it here first and not on Sinfini Music - that in February 2014 an 18 CD box of Sargent recordings is being released. My source, who knows a thing or two about classical music, says these remastered discs should prompt a serious reassessment of Sargent's reputation. But the committed folk who are working on the remastering are also making an appeal to Overgrown Path readers. Does anyone have a complete set of the 1948 Sargent Elijah 78s as the transfer engineer is missing a few sides?
Let's keep rejoicing, because there is more good news: next month (September) EMI/Warner are releasing another Boult box which brings together all his remaining EMI recordings including some not previously transferred to CD; the list of composers includes Holst, Parry, Simpson, Bliss, Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov and, synchronistically, Howells. And even better news: this new box contains Sir Adrian's 1974 recording of marches for orchestra (Sousa, Coates, Alford etc) made with the London Philharmonic, a legendary disc that has been out of the catalogue so long it has become a collector's item. Which brings this path full circle as those marches for orchestra are another fine example of the great abiding power of sonority without noise.
* Trying to help record companies sell their wares is frustrating. I try to avoid linking to Amazon to help independent retailers, but the Howell's Music for Strings is still listed on the Chandos website as a full-priced CD, which is what I have linked to and which provides my header image. Not the first time, incidentally, that I have been frustrated by the Chandos website. Great re-release guys, but could you make it easier for customers to buy it?
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