LABELS: Carlton BBC Radio Classics
WORKS: Hymnus Paradisi; Fantasia for Cello and Orchestra
PERFORMER: April Cantelo (soprano), David Johnston (tenor), Alexander Baillie (cello) Three Choirs Festival Chorus, RPO/ Donald Hunt, BBC Scottish SO/ Norman Del Mar
CATALOGUE NO: 15656 91982 ADD
Armed with the latest in hi-tech, today’s sound engineers can still find it tough mastering the resonance of a cathedral acoustic, and the BBC engineers of 1977 can be forgiven for sometimes failing to encompass the richly proliferating textures of Hymnus Paradisi in this live Three Choirs Festival performance from Gloucester Cathedral. In fact, you would have to be a hi-fi snob not to experience the spiritual and emotional intensity of Howells’s glorious work in Donald Hunt’s urgently projected reading. The poignancy of music which stemmed directly from the most traumatic grieving at a young son’s death is constantly before us, even if allowances have to be made for a certain textural congestion at climaxes, and Howells’s uniquely burgeoning lyricism, at once sensual and spiritual, floods the mind.
The Cello Fantasia, discovered after the composer’s death in 1983, is a very different work, drier in material and less texturally memorable. Still, its tightly worked dialectic shows another side of Howells’s mastery, and this fine studio recording, made in one take, is very welcome. Anthony Payne