Herbert Howells is best known as a composer of ecclesiastical music, a large volume of which was produced for the Anglican church relatively late in his career. Earlier on, however, Howells wrote the "Concerto for String Orchestra" (1938) which opens this disc - a composition which apparently received little or no attention until Adrian Boult, to whom it was dedicated, revived it in 1974. Howells was present at the first performance of Vaughan Williams' "Tallis Fantasia" in 1910 and soon afterward heard Elgar's "Introduction and Allegro" for the first time. His own effort for strings, the "Concerto," was influenced by both of these masterpieces; and while it's in no way derivative. almost needless to say given its relative neglect, the Concerto can't compare to the creativity and inspiration found in Vaughan Williams or Elgar.
The "Elegy for Solo Viola, String Quartet and String Orchestra" is a much finer piece of music. Written in 1917 and dedicated to the memory of a fellow student at the Royal College of Music who was killed in the Great War, the Elegy is quite beautiful and deserves a place among the highest echelons of English string music.
The four movement "Suite for String Orchestra," completed in 1943, is patterned after Holst's famous "St. Paul's Suite." (Not coincidentally, Howells succeeded Holst as musical director of St Paul's Girl's School.) Howells' suite is at once stately, lively and inventive and wears repeated listenings well. The brief "Serenade for Strings" is a fine closer to this worthwhile collection of Howells' string music.
It's remarkable that this is the first Amazon review of this disc which was issued by Chandos sixteen years ago, especially given the revival of interest in British music over the last decades. Recommended.