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Drawing out

Herbert Howells on CD,
considered by BASIL RAMSEY

Priory    PRCD 759

The Complete Morning and Evening Canticles of Herbert Howells (c) 2001 Priory Records Ltd


Composers normally attain a style which characterises their feelings, the depth of which is gauged by their inherent sensitivity. All too often the link between the two is blemished, and only the more gifted are able to fulfil their true creative purpose.

The English composer Herbert Howells, who died in the eighties, was musically idyosyncratic, his style a mixture of old and new, which has failed to securely establish itself in any genre but church music. Not long after the war was born a desire in Howells to compose settings of the Anglican canticles, the first of which was the wondrously beautiful Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis for King's College, Cambridge. Over the next decade he set various morning and evening canticles for other establishments, thereby following a course that brought this curious yet powerful. music to a dozen or so settings. It enriched the Anglican Church with the single most radiant musical offering of the century [listen -- track 6, 0:00-1:00].

This CD selects from Howells' early church music to the final phase, with one unknown setting from 1924 previously unrecorded. Taking a comprehensive view, the one element that is capable of both lifting us in spirit and dampening it arises from the repetition of Howells' trademarks, whether dalliance on a chord with sundry embellishment, or muddy textures with which he can occasionally strangle a climax. These are characterisics of a style, and do not diminish its overall quality.

Howells' soundworld was anathema to some and a singular achievement to others. I am possibly biased from my close association with this music at the time of its writing, yet I know its staying power after half-a-century.

The choral singing on this record has warmed to the music, putting the stylistic features into focus and absorbing the Howellsian trademarks as part of the texture. This CD companions another with more of Howells' church music.


Copyright © 12 September 2001 Basil Ramsey, Eastwood, Essex, UK






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Record Box is Music & Vision's regular Wednesday series of shorter CD reviews