Howells' and Lambert's Clavichord

Another wonderful recommendation of a super-budget priced re-issue. Herbert Howells wrote his three books of clavichord pieces between 1927 and 1971.They recreate the dancelike spirit of Tudor keyboard music while paying homage to many well known English musical figures of the 20th century.

Although written for clavichord they are thankfully played by John McCabe on the piano, and avoid the almost insoluble problems of reproducing the sound of a clavichord. The concept of the works is rather similar to Elgar's Enigma Variations with its 'friends pictured within'. Although this is not profound music it is beautifully turned, evokes the style of the great Tudor composers beautifully, and has great fun gently parodying fellow musicians including Ralph Vaughan Williams, Malcom Arnold, Julian Bream, Edmund Rubbra, Gerald Finzi and William Walton.

Howells' and Lambert's Clavichord is perfect late night listening, and is a must both for fans of the great Tudor composers and of 20th century English music. I bought it when it was first released on Hyperion, and it has now been re-issued on their super-budget Helios label (catalogue number CDH55152) for round £5 ($9 US) - unmissable. Audio samples can be found on Hyperion's website.

If you enjoyed this post take An Overgrown Path to Elgar's other enigma
Image credit - Double-Fretted clavichord, anonymous.Germany, c.1770 from Russell Collection of EarlyKeyboard Instruments. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk


Anonymous said…
An intriguing recording ... thanks for pointing it out.

"...thankfully played by John McCabe on the piano, and avoid the almost insoluble problems of reproducing the sound of a clavichord. "

I'm not at all sure about this. For example, the beginning of the Pavane posted seems to me to cry out for the sound of a clavichord, particularly for the vibrato effect that can be achieved. If that's representative at all, then it seems as though the composer had the specific sound of the clavichord in his mind's ear as he wrote.

I'd be curious to know what's "insoluble" about recording a clavichord, in your mind. I have a few recordings of clavichord, and while I like the sound on some better than others, none are what I'd call a disaster. The recorded sound can of course get ugly if you crank up the volume too much, but that's not a fault of the recording.
Pliable said…
Scott, thanks for your useful comments.

Producers have an annoying habit of mixing clavichord and harpsichord on the same CD, I find this always results in the clavichord sounding the aural poor relation.

But if we leave that on one side I have spent a fair amount of time recently listening to Chistopher Hogwood's 'Secret Bach' played on clavichord on the Metronome label.It is not just the lower sound levels, the tonal range sounds compressed as well as the dynamics. Maybe this is just an unfortunate example, maybe it's because the works on the CD are familiar from harpsichord originals, but I have yet to listen to the disc with pleasure as opposed to interest.

Other reader comments are welcome, nominations please for examples of good recordings of clavichords.
Pliable said…
Guthry, production credits for The Secret Bach (Metronome CD 1056) are:

Producer - Tim Smithies
Engineer - Leigh Jemison
Recording venue - Newnham College, Cambridge and Challow Park, Berkshire

I guess the recording venues didn't help, but aren't clavichords (even historic ones) portable?
Anonymous said…
Pliable said ...

"Producers have an annoying habit of mixing clavichord and harpsichord on the same CD, I find this always results in the clavichord sounding the aural poor relation."

Ah, now you'll get no argument from me on this point. Examples would be a couple of cd's in the Hanssler Bach series.

I haven't heard Hogwood's recording. My favourite clavichord **sound** of the few I have is on a L'Oiseau-Lyre LP (big black round thing with a small hole in the middle) of Froberger with Thurston Dart. The overall sound strikes my ear as being (for lack of a better word) unforced. Dart makes effective use of vibrato, which is a very interesting effect, and almost startling when you first hear it.

I suppose that one root cause could be lack of recording experience. Has any producer ever sighed, "Not **another** clavichord recording..."?
Anonymous said…
Re the Froberger I mentioned - Amazon has no mention of it, but a bunch of Dart (and other) clavichord recordings are distributed or reissued by the British ... don't get ahead of me here ... by the British Clavichord Society. See
Anonymous said…
Well, I had to order the recording after the enthusiastic recommendation. It arrived yesterday, and it's a gem.

I do have to admit that I'd like to hear many of the pieces on a clavichord, however ... it sounds to me as though Howells was being quite instrument-specific in many cases.
zeusantony said…
The only location silent enough that I know about is St George's Queen Square Bristol or whatever they call it now since the acoustic was ruined. The Lotto money is not always used wisely. The triple (I think) glazing and the wide air gaps really do work to exclude extraneous noises. BBC achieved a really good job here for a change.
zeusantony said…
I have just remembered that the BBC Bristol classical music producer was Jillian White. Her name had slipped my memory but whilst recording at St George's I had many conversations with her. It was her I believe who was responsible for the soundproofing which was so successful. In those days the acoustic of the building was perfect for lieder and chamber recording. A thoroughly nice and professional person. Radio 3 Music output was excellent under her control. Whiteladies BBC was a fine building no longer used as intended. Dumbing down indeed throughout The Corporation.

Recent popular posts

All aboard the Martinu bandwagon

Will this attract young audiences? - discuss

Whatever happened to the long tail of composers?

Who are the real classical role models?

Mahler that dares to be different

Great music has no independent existence

No big bearded imam was going to tell me music was haram

A year of stories that had to be told

A tale of two new audiences

The Berlin Philharmonic's darkest hour