Notes and Editorial Reviews
The Summer Is Coming. Sweetest of Sweets. Sing Lullaby. One Thing Have I Desired. A Spotless Rose. Antiphon. Walking in the Snow. A Grace for 10 Downing Street. Here Is the Little Door. God Be in My Head. Long, Long Ago.
Te Deum and
Jubilate (Collegium Regale).
Nunc Dimittis (Dallas Canticles). A Hymn for St Cecilia
Ralph Allwood, cond; Tom Wimpenny (org); Rodolphus Ch
SIGNUM SIGCD190 (69:02
Text and Translation)
Virtually all previous recordings of choral works by Herbert Howells have been exclusively devoted to his various sacred compositions—hardly surprising, given that Howells was arguably the greatest composer of liturgical music in the 20th century. This CD refreshingly adds to the mix a few of Howells’s secular choral pieces as well—specifically,
The Summer Is Coming, Sweetest of Sweets
Walking in the Snow
A Grace for 10 Downing Street
, the non-liturgical invocation composed in 1972 for then prime minister and amateur conductor Edward Heath. Spanning some 56 of the composer’s 90 years, from 1918 to 1976, they present the full panoply of his compositional techniques, ranging from employment of church modes to the influences of French Impressionism, but are all recognizably the products of their maker, whose art became increasingly refined and complex over the years but remained thoroughly consistent in its fundamentals. Among the lesser-known works presented here, the most substantial are the
. Whereas Howells wrote most of his service music for English cathedrals, this set from 1975 (the last of more than 20 settings by the composer) was provided instead for St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Dallas, where a former Howells pupil was the organist and choir director, and a wealthy local philanthropist paid the commission fee. However, there is evidence suggesting that the works were originally intended for Durham Cathedral; such are the financial exigencies of musical composition.
The Rodolphus Choir is a polished ensemble of about 30 young singers, 16 to 25 years old, who are students and graduates of Eton. Its sonorities are bright and noticeably favor the treble end of the frequency spectrum over the somewhat subdued tenors and basses. Particularly noteworthy is its excellent diction, which makes it possible to follow most of the pieces without texts on hand; intelligibility is aided further by a well-considered recorded acoustic that is clear and not too reverberant. Texts are provided for all selections except
Long, Long Ago
Walking in the Snow
, omitted for copyright reasons. (The Naxos CD 8.554659 of music by Howells has the text of the former.) Rather frustratingly, only three of the four carol-anthems are recorded (
Like as the Hart Desireth
is omitted), and the others are interspersed throughout the set instead of presented
. For the Howells completist this disc has, so far as I can find, the only recordings in print of
God Be in My Head
Walking in the Snow
; most of the other selections have only one other recording in print, though for several pieces that is the top-notch one of the Chandos two-CD budget set with the Finzi Singers under Paul Spicer, Howells’s pupil and biographer. Consequently, this disc will likely serve as a supplement for most Howells devotees; but as such it is a worthy one, as well as a welcome addition to any choral collection in general.
FANFARE: James A. Altena
From the very opening of this disc - a mixture of sacred and secular choral works - the Rodolfus Choir, under the astute directorship of Ralph Allwood, capture Howells’s idiom perfectly, and their understanding of this music is reflected in the high quality of their performances. They commence with
The Summer is Coming, a brooding and complex work, written in memory of Arnold Bax, and the disc also features the much-loved Three Carol-Anthems –
A Spotless Rose and
Here is the Little Door, here sung beautifully – although I found the soloist a little strained in
A Spotless Rose. Howells composed his George Herbert settings
Sweetest of Sweets and
Antiphon very late on in life. Written for the Bach Choir at the suggestion of Sir David Willcocks, these are both brilliantly crafted works – harmonically adventurous and complicated, but one of my very few criticisms of this disc is that the male voices appear rather weak in
Antiphon. The female voices are, in fact, stronger and more secure as a general rule throughout this recording, and they are particularly outstanding in
One Thing Have I Desired, a work commissioned by St Matthew’s, Northampton. Other works presented include the
Collegium Regale Te Deum and
Nunc Dimittis from the Dallas Service (commissioned by the director of music at St Luke’s Episcopal Church in Dallas – American Anglicans were great followers of Howells’s music at that time), and
God be in my head. The latter was a composition demonstration that Howells gave to a pupil, written within the student’s hour-long lesson. The Rodolfus Choir here give a glowing account of this simple but incredibly effective piece. Another striking work on the disc is
A Grace for 10 Downing Street. Edward Heath asked Howells to compose grace for a dinner to be held at 10 Downing Street in honour of William Walton - and at which the Queen Mother as well as other distinguished guests would be present. The performance here indicates how apt a start this Grace would have been to a truly impressive occasion. The disc concludes with
A Hymn for St Cecilia, commissioned by the Worshipful Company of Musicians to celebrate Howells’s time as Master of the Company. It is a splendid conclusion to an excellent disc of exquisite and radiant singing.
-- Em Marshall, MusicWeb International