Howells: Requiem; Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis; Office of Holy Communion

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COMPOSERS: Howells
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Requiem; Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis; Office of Holy Communion
PERFORMER: Sarah Blood (soprano), Christopher de la Hoyde (alto), Simon Wall (tenor), Alex Ashworth (bass), Iain Farrington (organ); Choir of St John’s College, Cambridge/Christopher Robinson
CATALOGUE NO: 8.554659
With so many settings of the Anglican evening canticles to his credit, Howells was a composer whose liturgical works, through their profusion, might daunt the uninitiated. Full marks, therefore, to Naxos for this polished collection, and for drawing on the skills of the choir of St John’s College, Cambridge, where Howells himself was one-time organist. Recorded sound is vibrant. Performances, except for the organ Paean, which though slower than the composer intended seems lacking in clarity, are committed and full of the Celtic passion that simmered beneath Howells’s dapper English exterior.

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One might have written pagan passion, for the romanticism that in larger works like the Missa Sabriensis soars beyond textual meaning is evident here in the rapt progressions of both the St. Paul’s Service and that potent precursor of much that is most characteristic in the Hymnus Paradisi, the 1933 Requiem. In the unadorned lines of the composer’s deploration for President Kennedy, Take him, Earth, for Cherishing, Prudentius’s world, of Christianity obscured in Roman night, is perfectly embodied. The Collegium Regale communion service and the short anthems Like as the Hart and Long, Long Ago complete the picture of a composer at one with the social function of his music. Nicholas Williams