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Howells: Requiem, Etc; Frank Martin: Mass / Varasi Singers

Release Date: 03/30/2004 
Label:  Signum U.k.   Catalog #: 503   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Herbert HowellsFrank Martin
Conductor:  Jeremy Backhouse
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vasari Singers
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

In 1994 Jeremy Backhouse and his Vasari Singers recorded Herbert Howells' Requiem and Frank Martin's Mass for a British label called United. The packaging touted its special "Sensaura" engineering--a recording system that "makes use of the natural hearing cues that we all use in everyday life to determine the direction, height, and distance of sound sources." Here is that same recording, and whatever "Sensaura" was, it still sounds pretty terrific 10 years later in its new incarnation on Signum. The performances aren't too shabby either, equalling my long-standing reference version of the Howells by the superb Corydon Singers. Backhouse understands the importance of
Read more pacing in the Requiem, giving properly measured reflection to the two critical Requiem aeternam movements--and the choir follows his lead, perfectly maintaining the tension with impressively seamless legato and expertly executed harmonic transitions. In the slow, meditative passages, we hear some of Howells' more intimate expressions (because of its deeply personal provenance, he withheld the work's publication for nearly 50 years) informed by soprano voices sensuously, sensitively floating their line above the rest of the choir's warm-colored harmonies. Similarly, the work's more emphatic parts are delivered meaningfully, and the result is a very satisfying and moving rendition of this all-too-rarely-heard masterpiece.

By no means a lesser work, Martin's Mass (which he also withheld from performance for 40 years) receives the same care and respect for its underlying personal/spiritual symbolism as the Howells, its dynamic power and quiet intimacy fully realized by this first-class ensemble. And placed between the two big works, Howells' memorial to John F. Kennedy, the motet Take him, earth, for cherishing, proves an ideal and memorable program filler. If you missed this the first time around--consider yourself lucky to have a second chance. [6/3/2004]
--David Vernier, ClassicsToday.com Read less

Works on This Recording

Requiem by Herbert Howells
Conductor:  Jeremy Backhouse
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vasari Singers
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1936; England 
Take him, earth, for cherishing by Herbert Howells
Conductor:  Jeremy Backhouse
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vasari Singers
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1964; England 
Mass for Double Chorus by Frank Martin
Conductor:  Jeremy Backhouse
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vasari Singers
Period: 20th Century 
Written: Switzerland 
Notes: Composition written: Switzerland (1922).
Composition revised: Switzerland (1926). 

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