Howells: Hymnus paradisi; Concerto for Strings

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

WORKS: Hymnus paradisi; Concerto for Strings
PERFORMER: Heather Harper (soprano), Robert Tear (tenor); Bach Choir, Choir of King’s College, Cambridge, New Philharmonia Orchestra/David Willcocks, LPO/Adrian Boult
CATALOGUE NO: CDM 5 67119 2 ADD Reissue (1970, 1974)
Hymnus paradisi retains a special place in the hearts of many lovers of English music. This recording has been in and out of the catalogue in a variety of guises since its debut in 1970 and I am happy to welcome this incarnation. Christopher Palmer’s excellent notes tell the story of how the tragic death of the composer’s young son in 1935 resulted in the compelling need to channel the pain of bereavement into a major musical statement. Though completed in 1938, the work was only premiered, with the encouragement of Vaughan Williams, at the 1950 Three Choirs Festival.


It is clear from the immediate communication of pain and loss in the orchestral ‘Preludio’ how much this piece means to Willcocks and his forces. The devotional choral entry in the ‘Requiem aeternam’ is of sincere spirituality and while Heather Harper can float over the chorus or melt into its textures at will, Robert Tear (somewhere near the peak of his ability to inflect English texts) becomes the very voice of ‘loving kindness and mercy’.


True, the sound can be a little fuzzy and the odd climax a touch constrained but these are not significant impediments to the disc’s value – now generously coupled with the neglected Concerto for Strings. David Wilkins