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Hyperion Records

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The Ford by John Linnell (1792-1882)
Track(s) taken from CDH55205
Recording details: March 1992
Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool, United Kingdom
Produced by Gary Cole
Engineered by Tony Faulkner
Release date: October 1992
Total duration: 27 minutes 44 seconds

'Yet another definitive and indispensable addition to the recorded repertoire of British music… Go forth, purchase, and enjoy!' (Fanfare, USA)

Concerto for string orchestra

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
In 1935 Howells’s only son died of polio, aged only nine. It was another and far more devastating moment in his life. Emotionally paralysed for some time, he began to pick up composition again as a means of purging the ghost of his son. Before the boy’s death Howells had been composing a work for string orchestra to commemorate the recent death of Elgar. In 1938 he completed it, giving it the title Concerto for string orchestra. Not all of it was new: the first movement was an extensive reworking of the ebullient Preludio from an early string orchestra suite of 1917, the second movement of which became a separate work – the Elegy for viola, string quartet and strings, one of the composer’s most beautiful orchestral works. The second movement jointly commemorates Elgar and Michael Howells. Howells called it ‘submissive and memorial in its intention and purpose’. The third movement balances the first in its energy and drive.

Howells described the inspiration behind the work: ‘It was meant to be a modest expression of the abiding spell of music for strings, and to be, in that genus, in humble relationship to two supreme works, Vaughan Williams’s ‘Tallis’ Fantasia, and Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro. In 1910 at the Three Choirs Festival in Gloucester Cathedral I was present at the first performance of the Fantasia. Within days, and for the first time, I heard the Introduction and Allegro. I was at the time 17; deeply impressionable. 25 years later, again at Gloucester, walking with Sir Edward Elgar in the cathedral precincts, he talked quietly and earnestly of the technique of writing for strings. One name dominated his talk, George Frederick Handel.’

The death of Howells’s son ironically unlocked the frozen powers which had stopped him composing after the debacle of the second piano concerto. He went on to write his undisputed masterpiece, Hymnus Paradisi, and the whole emphasis of his work shifted from music for the concert hall to music either for the church, or choral music with non-liturgical religious texts such as the Stabat mater written in the mid fifties. This (the church music) is the music by which he is best known. Recordings such as this serve to redress the imbalance which has existed for years in the appreciation of Howells’s output by giving us the opportunity to reassess these major orchestral scores through which Howells’s career developed and his musical personality reached maturity.

from notes by Paul Spicer © 1992

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