Howells – St John’s Magnificat

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Howells
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: A Sequence for St Michael; By the Waters of Babylon; A Spotless Rose; Gloucester Service; Psalm 142; A Grace for 10 Downing Street; One Thing Have I Desired; Like as the Hart; Collegium Sancti Johannis Cantabrigiense; Salve Regina; Te Deum (Collegium Regale)
PERFORMER: Choir of St John’s College, Cambridge/Andrew Nethsingha; Timothy Ravalde (organ); with *Paul Whelan (baritone), *David Adams (violin), *Alice Neary (cello)
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 10587

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If you are at all interested in Howells’s church music this disc is an obligatory purchase. What makes it special is the way in which the St John’s, Cambridge choir do more with a piece like the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis written for their own chapel than simply rattle it out mechanically for liturgical purposes. Here the emotion of the music feelingly and unapologetically wells upward to the surface, making raw and immediate the spiritual impetus of Howells’s writing.

Deeply committed also is By the waters of Babylon, a psalm setting for baritone, violin, cello and organ, which is virtually operatic in its rhetorical impact. There is more fine solo work in A Spotless Rose (choir ideally balanced dynamically in the background) and A Sequence for St Michael.

Overall, however, it is the bold, confidently assertive nature of the choir’s attack under director of music Andrew Nethsingha which is constantly striking, a trait typical of the John’s style, and one which separates it sharply from the smoother, more restrained delivery of its King’s College, Cambridge neighbours.

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The engineering creates an appropriately dramatic acoustic.This is the first CD in St John’s three-year contract with Chandos, and at least four more will follow. They will most definitely be worth following closely. Terry Blain