Howells: Requiem

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COMPOSERS: Herbert Howells
LABELS: Hyperion
ALBUM TITLE: Howells: Requiem
WORKS: Requiem; St paul’s Service; Gloucester Service; take him earth for cherishing
PERFORMER: Simon Bland, Jeremy Cole (organ); The Choir of Trinity College Cambridge/Stephen Layton
CATALOGUE NO: CDA67914

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In a work intended to console, it’s important that the actual sound the choir makes is warmly consoling. It certainly is in this new Trinity College recording of Howells’s 1932 Requiem: the tonal blend drawn from the choir by conductor Stephen Layton, suffused by the acoustic of the Lady Chapel in Ely Cathedral, is glowing, and makes of the opening ‘Salvator mundi’ a spiritually palliative experience.

It’s fascinating to note, too, the difference undergraduate voices make in this music, compared with more mature singers. There’s undoubtedly an extra poignancy in solo passages (Hannah Partridge’s soprano in Psalm 23 is particularly affecting), created by the relative lack of contrivance in their singing.

In tutti sections, the clear, youthful timbre of the Trinity choir and the absence of vibrato in the upper parts intensify the sense of loss that permeates Howells’s composition. It’s as though a sad tale is rendered somehow sadder when recited by the voice of fresh, untarnished innocence.

The purity of vibrato-free voices is again a major plus-point at the opening of the Gloucester Service, where imitative echo effects in soprano and alto voices are etched with delicacy and precision. The more robust St Paul’s Service has plenty of sheer heft where necessary.

A superb one-stop introduction to Howells’s choral music.

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Terry Blain