Mendelssohn and Howells CD reviews

NORMAN STINCHCOMBE REVIEWS CDS OF MENDELSSOHN AND HERBERT HOWELLS


MENDELSSOHN IN BIRMINGHAM Vol.5: CBSO / Gardner (Chandos SACD/CD CHSA 5325) ★★★

Anyone who has collected the first four volumes of this series will rightly feel short-changed if they buy this one. Half of the eight overtures on this disc – A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Hebrides, Ruy Blas and Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage – have already appeared on the first four volumes. The four new ones – Paulus, The Fair Melusina, Trumpet Overture and Athalie – last for a combined 29 minutes. How about first time buyers? They'll get engagingly played, energetic and very brisk performances under Edward Gardener, all well recorded. Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage unfolds the pictorial elements beautifully with characterful wind playing and ringing brass, as there is in Ruy Blas. In Hebrides inner detail isn't always clear – compare with |Norrington (EMI). In Shakespeare's enchanted forest conductors like Previn (EMI) and Dutoit (Decca), find a truly magical ending (which evades Gardner) by slightly broadening the tempo and tweaking dynamics.



HOWELLS: Johnston / Britten Sinfonia / Seaman / Choir of King's College Cambridge / King's Voices / Cleobury (Kings's College KGS0032 / 2 CD & SACD) ★★★★

This set devoted to the music of English composer, organist and teacher Herbert Howells (1892-1983) provides a wide selection of his music. His Cello Concerto is a patchwork: the opening Fantasia from the 1930s was completed, the second movement Threnody orchestrated by Christopher Palmer in 1992 and now Jonathan Clinch has used Howell's sketches to devise an allegro finale. Despite the piecemeal origins it works very well, played superbly by Guy Johnston, with the Britten Sinfonia under Christopher Seaman, who makes the Threnody passionately moving. An English Mass, from the 1950s is no piece of safe-and-sound Anglicanism but a thrusting, sometimes angst-ridden, piece finely performed with forces marshalled by Ben Parry. The Te Deum, Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis are substantial but emotionally less demanding fare, and three short organ works played by Stephen Cleobury – Paean, Master Tallis's Testament and Rhapsody No.3 – complete an excellent set captured in a spacious recording.

Norman Stinchcombe

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