John McCabe's recording of Herbert Howells' clavichord music is a chance to hear some twentieth century music inspired by C.P.E. Bach's favorite instrument. While other composers were re-discovering the harpsichord, Howells' love for early English music and the instruments of two modern clavichord makers led to the composition of the three sets of miniatures: Lambert's Clavichord and Howells' Clavichord Books One and Two. Howells dedicated every piece in each set to a friend, and in the last two sets he even sometimes attempted to put something of the dedicatee into the music, whether it was a description of that person's character or an imitation of a fellow composer's style. Howells' titles, and in many instances the style of the piece, is a reference to the keyboard compositions of the English virginalists of the late sixteenth/early seventeenth centuries. On the one hand, "Lambert's Fireside" and "Goff's Fireside," named after Herbert Lambert and Thomas Goff, the two clavichord makers, are almost completely idiomatic of virginal music. On the other, the meandering tonality of "Rubbra's Soliloquy" and "E.B.'s Fanfarando" marks them as twentieth century compositions. Howells intended all of the sets for performance on either a clavichord or a modern piano. John McCabe has chosen the piano, and he puts so much rich, pianistic coloring into the pieces, more so in "Howells' Clavichord" than in "Lambert's Clavichord," it is hard to imagine how they would sound on the much quieter, more intimate clavichord. In a few of the faster pieces, such as "Hughes' Ballet," McCabe has an exuberance that isn't normally associated with Renaissance keyboard music. Even a more pensive one, such as "Arnold's Antic," has its moments of energetic joy. McCabe does give those thoughtful, quieter ones something of the flavor of how they would sound on the other instrument, but that just makes the other miniatures stand out that much more. It would be fascinating to compare a performance of these sets on a clavichord to this rewarding one by McCabe.
AllMusic Review by Patsy Morita
|Lambert's Clavichord: Twelve Pieces for Clavichord, Op 41|
|Howells' Clavichord, complete (Books 1 & 2)|