How to describe Lambert’s Clavichord? Pastiche won’t cover it (even if there are moments that run it close). Perhaps, like the Stravinsky of Pulcinella who fancied himself to be composing directly onto Pergolesi’s score, Howells’s manuscript paper was metaphorically spread over the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book. The opening number, ‘Lambert’s Fireside’, seems to be dreaming its way back into a Tudor world before what follows can reinvent that world in Howells’s own image. Ravel was underwhelmed. Perusing a copy, all he could venture to the young composer was ‘well it’s printed nicely’! Undeterred, a dozen years later work began on two follow-up volumes entitled Howells’s Clavichord, both straying much further from the Elizabethan blandishments of the first set.
Although Howells sanctioned the use of piano as an alternative (presumably on practical grounds), there’s no doubt that the clavichord brings us closer to the time-travelling wellspring of his imagination – he was proud of Vaughan Williams’s characterisation of him as ‘the reincarnation of one of the lesser Tudor luminaries’! – and these handsomely produced discs represent the first complete recording to engage with the instrument. Sharing the loot between three well-chosen specimens, Julian Perkins tackles the 32 miniatures with panache and empathy to spare.
What fulsome tones he draws out of the Pavane named for Vaughan Williams; an invigorating tally-ho spurs on ‘Berkeley’s Hunt’; and a wry nod to William Walton in Coronation best bib and tucker rounds things off with an abracadabra of a celebratory flourish. Against all the odds: hurrah for Howells!