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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 1 seconds

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

Piano Concerto No 2 in C minor

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
This concerto is a big-scale, three-movement work, designed on a very unusual ground plan (which was possibly what led to the outburst). Howells organized the three movements as a huge sonata-form structure with the first movement acting as the exposition, the slow movement as the development, and the last movement as a modified recapitulation (all the movements are linked). To this extent the constant referral back to the first subject (a short, diatonic tune) can become monotonous unless sympathetically interpreted. The problems at the first performance were exacerbated by unsympathetic performers. This must have come across to any with ears to hear.

In describing the form of the work, Howells also hints at something deeper which was to become such a hallmark of his style later on: ‘What always matters to a modern is to express a complex mood. Now for that, sonata form is not always suitable, or sonata form as hitherto accepted.’ This ‘complex mood’ was something which Vaughan Williams brought to perfection in his utterly original Pastoral Symphony. Howells described this more fully in a penetrating article in Music and Letters in April 1922: ‘He neither depicts nor describes. It is not his concern to “make the universe his box of toys”. He builds up a great mood, insistent to an unusual degree, but having in itself far more variety than a merely slight acquaintance with it would suggest. In matter and manner it is entirely personal … you may not like the Symphony’s frame of mind; but there it is, strong and courageous; it is the truth of the work, and out of it would naturally arise whatever risk it has run of being publicly cold-shouldered.’

Howells’s Piano Concerto No 2 is full of drama and lyricism. He intended it to be a ‘diatonic affair, with deliberate tunes all the way … jolly in feeling, and attempting to get to the point as quickly as maybe’. Certainly it is a tour de force and is quite unlike any other concerto of the period. With its brilliant use of the orchestra and its colourful effects it must have sounded very modern indeed to that audience on 27 April 1925.

from notes by Paul Spicer © 1992

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