Howells: Hymnus paradisi; A Kent Yeoman’s Wooing Song

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LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Hymnus paradisi; A Kent Yeoman’s Wooing Song
PERFORMER: Joan Rodgers (soprano), Anthony Rolfe Johnson (tenor), Alan Opie (baritone); BBC SO & Chorus/Richard Hickox
The death of his nine-year-old son Michael in 1935 left its mark on the remainder of Herbert Howells’s life, but some of the pain was subsumed and perhaps transcended in the composition of Hymnus paradisi, which was completed in 1938 but remained private until 1950. Howells was the complete craftsman, and his combining of two soloists, chorus and large orchestra produces some thrilling writing, but more importantly, his score is the work of a valiant spirit and despite its sombre origin rises to visionary exaltation. Conductor Richard Hickox brings passionate commitment to his performance and shapes Howells’s long, long lines lovingly. He’s aided by the fine playing of the BBC Symphony Orchestra and sensitive choral singing, a radiant soprano soloist and a tenor who if mature remains eloquent.


A quite different side of Howells is revealed in A Kent Yeoman’s Wooing Song, an ebullient, summery and in places erotic setting of texts from around 1600. Here Alan Opie is every inch the bold lover and Joan Rodgers the determined young woman who likes the sound of his ‘house and land in Kent’. The acoustic proves favourable to the richness of Howells’s writing, though I would have preferred greater breadth in the sound picture. George Hall