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Herbert HOWELLS (1892–1983)
Lambert’s Clavichord - Twelve pieces for clavichord, Op. 41 (1927)
1 Lambert’s Fireside [1:33]; 2 Fellowes’s Delight [1:32]; 3 Hughes’s Ballet [1:05]; 4 Wortham’s Grounde [2:59]; 5 Sargent’s Fantastic Sprite [1:09]; 6 Foss’s Dump [1:39]; 7 My Lord Sandwich’s Dreame [2:35]; 8 Samuel’s Air [2:23]; 9 De la Mare’s Pavane [2:56]; 10 Sir Hugh’s Galliard [1:04]; 11 H H His Fancy [3:19]; 12 Sir Richard’s Toye [0:57]
Howells: Clavichord - Twenty pieces for clavichord or piano (1941, 1961)
1 Goff’s Fireside [2:40]; 2 Patrick’s Siciliano [2:21]; 3 Jacob’s Brawl [1:33]; 4 Dart’s Sarabande [3:00]; 5 Arnold’s Antic [2:06]; 6 Andrews: Air [2:22]; 7 Boult’s Brangill [2:02]; 8 Rubbra’s Soliloquy [3:48]; 9 Newman’s Flight [2:11]; 10 Dyson’s Delight [2:21]; 11 E B’s Fanfarando [1:15]; 12 Ralph’s Pavane [4:53]; 13 Ralph’s Galliard [2:35]; 14 Finzi’s Rest [5:03]; 15 Berkeley’s Hunt [1:39]; 16 Malcolm’s Vision [4:19]; 17 Bliss’s Ballet [1:42]; 18 Julian’s Dream [3:52]; 19 Jacques’s Mask [2:26]; 20 Walton’s Toye [1:58]
John McCabe (piano)
Rec. 31 July - 1 Aug 1993. DDD
Originally issued as CDA66689

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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.

Howells' Clavichord 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.

Rob Barnett

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