Here is a reissue at
bargain price of Herbert Howells' three
sets of clavichord portraiture - a series
of cameos of friends ‘pictured within’.
They are sensitively played on the piano
but with the tone and timbre of the
clavichord constantly evoked directly
or by suggestion.
The 1927 set runs the
gamut from the Purcellian Lambert (Herbert
not Constant) piece to the Hughes which
is full of fervent energy to the apposite
prancing and prinking of Sargent’s
Fantastic Sprite. Foss’s Dump
(Hubert Foss of OUP fame and a composer
in his own right) is bass gloomy while
My Lord Sandwich's Dream is Finzian
in that composer’s grand Bachian manner.
Howells set various poems by Walter
de la Mare and probably revered his
work as highly as Finzi revered that
of Hardy. The De La Mare Pavane has
a halting pulse. Sir Hugh's Galliard
is chipper while Howells reserves
to himself an Enigma-like self
portrait in HH His Fancy.
is in two books: 1941 and 1961. The
first book’s highlights include the
Warlockian danserye and droop of Patrick’s
Siciliano (composer Patrick Hadley)
- a mood that returns for Dart's
Sarabande. Then there is the verve
of Jacob's Brawl and Boult’s
Brangill and the mischievous urchinry
that is Arnold's Antic. Rubbra's
Soliloquy is harmonically ambiguous
suggesting the darkness and density
of line of Van Dieren’s complex scores.
Newman's Flight is fey and skippingly
fugal. The envoi is Dyson's Delight
- all brusqueness and storm.
The Second Book starts
with EB’s Fanfarando which is
Howells at his most eager and bright.
Finzi's Rest is a sure-footed
and touching emulation of the Finzi
style in the manner of the Romance
and the Eclogue. Vaughan Williams
gets two consecutive pieces: the Tallis
Ralph’s Pavane and the sparkling
Ralph’s Galliard which distinctively
catches RVW's harmonic flavour. Berkeley's
Hunt is caustic and wild-eyed. Bliss's
Ballet (very appropriate given Bliss’s
contribution to English ballet) echoes
the exuberance of Music For Strings.
The sequence ends with Walton's Toye;
this is Walton at the charge but with
a life-filled peppering of Petrushka.
Paul Spicer guides
us illuminatingly through the background
to these two sequences of music.
I have to say that
for me these pieces do not entirely
escape a touch of amber-preserved fashion.
There is nothing damning in this; much
the same applies to Vaughan Williams’
opera The Poisoned Kiss a most
engaging and touching operatic piece
wonderfully recorded by Chandos.
John McCabe is surely
the ideal pianist here making a fine
advocate for these substantial miniatures.
He has a long tradition in performing
British music and his empathy with these
pieces is surely illuminated and intensified
by his own experience as a composer.