Herbert Howells on CD,
considered by BASIL RAMSEY
Priory PRCD 759
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
Copyright © 12 September 2001
Basil Ramsey, Eastwood, Essex, UK
CD INFORMATION - PRIORY PRCD 759
PURCHASE THIS DISC FROM CROTCHET
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