Like all Howells, the Rhapsodic Quintet is basically song. Howells liked strings (he composed various works for string orchestra as well as for quartet) because of their nearness in character to the human voice, and no woodwind instrument is more vocal in terms of expressivity and melodiousness than the clarinet. As for ‘rhapsodic’, this is often used in a pejorative sense, implying a ramshackle structure. By no stretch of the imagination could the structure of the Rhapsodic Quintet be described as ‘ramshackle’. On the contrary it is highly organized, and the listener will have no difficulty in spotting the two main themes and following their exposition, development and recapitulation. ‘Rhapsodic’ refers more to the overall one-movement shape, which encompasses a number of contrasting moods or phases. But Howells is no meanderer; he knows where he is going and what he has to do on the way. He is also a supreme poet. Thea King reckons the closing section of the quintet to be one of the loveliest moments in music—the peace of ages is in it—and she is sure to find many to agree with her.
from notes by Christopher Palmer © 1991