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.
John Cage: Early Piano Music comes from Herbert Henck, an experienced hand with the work of Cage, having previously recorded Music for Piano, Music of Changes, and Sonatas and Interludes in addition to a mighty swath of first-tier twentieth-century literature for piano for various labels, most notably Wergo and ECM New Series. These are early works for standard, not prepared, piano, and some of these pieces will be as familiar to dyed-in-the-wool Cageans as "Happy Birthday." This puts the pressure on Henck to excel, and he does so spectacularly well here. The disc includes the two sets entitled Two Pieces for Piano, the piano version of The Seasons, Metamorphosis, In a Landscape, Ophelia, and the fragmentary Quest. The pieces date from 1935 to 1948, the same range covered by pianist Jeanne Kirstein in her pioneering 1967 survey of Cage's piano music for CBS Masterworks.