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CD Review

Herbert Howells

14 Choral Pieces

  • A Sequence for St. Michael
  • A Hymn for St. Cecilia
  • Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem
  • Te Deum & Benedictus 'St. George's, Windsor'
  • I love all beauteous things
  • Salve Regina
  • Magnificat & Nunc dimittis 'New College, Oxford'
  • A Spotless Rose
  • Sing lullaby
  • Here is the little door
  • Magnificat & Nunc dimittis 'Collegium Regale'
The Choir of Wells Cathedral/Malcolm Archer
Hyperion CDA67494 80m DDD
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This Howells disc is one of the finest choral compilations of the composer's music I have heard for quite a while. The tragedy that befell Howells in 1935 when he lost his son Michael at the age of nine, remained an open wound up to the end of his life in 1983, and from that episode onwards, practically all his works are permeated by a hidden, inconsolable pain.

This CD aptly opens with 'A Sequence for St. Michael' whose two opening cries seem to want to draw the listener into the composer's agony. This piece is the most corpulent work on this disc (apart from the Te Deum) and it is a true example of arch-Impressionism of the highest degree.

The other 13 tracks are a mixture of famous and less famous works, but I must single out the 'Evening Canticle' of 1945 whose composition set the benchmark for 20th century liturgical pieces, and led to the composer being inundated by requests from cathedrals and collegiate chapels.

All the remaining works display Howell's profound understanding of the polyphonic art and the individual characteristics – acoustic, architecture and choral timbre – of each foundation, which made some of these works so popular and successful. This programme includes pieces for Windsor Castle, St. George's Chapel, King's College, Cambridge and New College, Oxford.

The Choir of Wells Cathedral sing with devotion and conviction, if only for the sake of their director, Malcolm Archer. In fact, this is Archer's farewell recording prior to his prestigious appointment to St. Paul's in London. Apart from its generous playing time, this CD is also endowed by Paul Spicer's scholarly annotations.

Copyright © 2005, Gerald Fenech