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Lambert & Howells

Constant Lambert Piano Concerto, Ballet Romeo & Juliet etc
Jonathan Plowright (piano)
English Northern Philharmonia/David Lloyd-Jones
Hyperion CDA67545

Here is a highly recommendable CD of lesser-known music from the mid-'20s by Constant Lambert. At a recent PLG anniversary concert it was generally felt was the most interesting composer of his time, along with Alan Rawsthorne.

The youthful piano concerto (its successor for a chamber group is better known) was new to me, and it is fresh an throughly viable for the repertoire. And it is good to renew acquaintance with the playing of Jonathan Plowright, who made such a strong impression at pianoworks99, a memorable festival in Blackheath generously supported by the late, great Ted Perry, and featuring several Hyperion pianists.

The Romeo & Juliet ballet is not likely to displace Prokofiev's. It has a curious history, the title having been changed by Diaghilev from Adam & Eve and the numbers renamed suitably! Diaghilev did put it on in Monte Carlo, but only after a big row with the composer whose set designer Christopher Wood (his cover portrait of Lambert is in the National Portrait Gallery) was rejected in favour of a couple of French surrealists, Max Ernst & Joan Miro! But the music's the thing for us, and it is pleasing indeed. Several shorter pieces; the jazzy Elegiac Blues is very attractive, and all this music should attract radio programme planners.

Herbert Howells Lambert's Clavichord & Howell's Clavichord
John McCabe (piano)
Helios CDH55152 [1994, reissued]

John McCabe's recording on piano of Herbert Howells' collections of clavichord pieces has rather surprisingly been reissued by Helios.

Howells was loaned a clavichord in 1927 and found it 'an entrancing instrument'. He proceeded to add two books, 32 pieces, to the slender 20 C repertoire. The first is entitled (Constant) Lambert's Clavichord and I have enjoyed playing it on my own Hodsdon clavichord for decades since I was a student during the first wider flourishing of the early instrument movement c. 1950.

Both books are restricted to a compass of two octaves and are idiomatically conceived for the clavichord. They are really unsuitable for the modern Steinway, despite fulsome praise quoted on the publicity material*. The second book Howell's Clavichord is harder, but not dauntingly so for professional clavichordists. This reissue does no service to Howells or McCabe. Who'll take up the challenge?

*'A lovely collection. Can I have it on my desert island, please?' (Gramophone)
'These exquisite miniatures are performed to idiomatic perfection' (Hi-Fi News)

© Peter Grahame Woolf