Herbert Howells: Fantasy String Quartet; Rhapsodic Quintet; Piano Quartet
The "Piano Quartet in A minor, Op. 21," by English fin de siècle composer Herbert Howells, bears a dedication that may be unique in music: "To the hill at Chosen." Though one might wonder how well a piece of music written for a specific piece of property located in the west of England could transcend its geographic limitations, this 1973 Lyrita recording shows that being evocative doesn't rule out being universal. As performed here with ardent enthusiasm by the Richards Ensemble, the pentatonic themes, modal harmonies, and sinuous tempos of Howells' quartet sound distinctly English. But the evocation of earth, wind, and sky is so tangibly real that some listeners may believe they feel fresh, warm air on their faces in this passionate reading of the work's central Lento, molto tranquillo. The players are not always absolutely together in the fastest passages, but the kind of raw rhythmic power they bring to the closing Allegro molto, energico more than compensates for it. Coupled here with ecstatically singing accounts of Howells' "Fantasy String Quartet, Op. 25," and "Rhapsodic Quintet, Op. 31," performed by the Richards Ensemble, this disc will be mandatory listening for those who already know Howells' choral and orchestral music. It will even be interesting listening for those who may not already know Howells but who do already know Vaughan Williams' contemporaneous "First String Quartet" and "Phantasy Quartet" and are looking for something similar. Lyrita's stereo sound is cool, clear, and vivid.