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Sonata No 2 in E flat major, Op 26


The second violin sonata is a monumental work, full of drama. There are times when the intensity of expression quite takes the breath away. There is little or none of the ruminative Howells here, and to this extent it may serve as a good point of introduction to those unfamiliar with his music. To my mind this work ranks with the Piano Quartet (1916) as the best example of a truly integrated and meaningful piano part in the composer’s output. There is barely a wasted note, and no gratuitous arpeggio figures which occasionally bedevil other works with piano.

The second movement, Quasi lento, is fascinating as a pre-echo of Howells’s most famous song, King David written in 1919. The questioning, rising figure in the piano part also features importantly in the song, and the violin part, particularly in its second phrase, conjures up exactly the same feeling. The third movement opens with a reflection of that rising phrase from the second movement and then launches into a raunchy scherzo. Howells was right to think there was nothing like it in the repertory before. In fact, if anything, it conjures up the feeling of the music used for the television series Dr Finlay’s Casebook (the March from Trevor Duncan’s Little Suite of 1960). This movement has an extraordinary sweep to it, with the second subject being a massive chordal idea from the piano with a big-boned melody from the violin. It is heady stuff. Whatever Howells’s reasons for withdrawing the work (and we can only make educated guesses about them), we must be grateful that he did not destroy the manuscript.

from notes by Paul Spicer © 1993


Howells: Music for violin and piano


Movement 1: Allegro moderato
Movement 2: Quasi lento
Movement 3: Lento – Allegro molto

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