One of Herbert Howells’ many settings of the Anglican act of worship is treated as reverently as it deserves.
Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge/Stephen Layton
“When I listen to Collegium Regale, I see the vaulting in the King’s college Chapel, and the whole building before me. I feel howells has conjured that with his music, and that speaks to me” – Stephen Howell
Howells’ loss was English music’s gain
Every cloud, they say, has a silver lining. In the dark days of World War II, Cambridge was a bleak place; emptied of students and the famous windows of King’s College Chapel put in storage. A middle-aged Herbert Howells was called upon to deputise at St. John’s College. Having weathered the death of his young son from meningitis and finding his style of music increasingly unfashionable, Howells found solace in university life. Amongst the supportive colleagues he found was the Dean of King’s, Eric Milner-White, who suggested that Howells should write some settings of the canticles for the college chapel. Taking up the challenge reinvigorated Howells’ composing career and gave Anglicans some of their most beloved 20th-century music.
One of the many advantages of this new recording is having all three services on one disc. In recording this music in Coventry Cathedral, Stephen Layton has invested Howells’ music with a grandeur, a space and a freedom that celebrate not only the original elements of its creation (King’s chapel and the Anglican liturgy) but also its universal qualities of beauty and solace that extend beyond these particular inspirations.
These superb performances see Trinity Choir’s trademark blend of passion and technique, all placed at the service of the music’s various moods; whether it be Mary’s quiet praise in the Magnificat, the tenor’s plaint in the Nunc Dimittis or the ebullience of the Jubilate and Gloria. Climaxes are thrilling, texts are sensitively declaimed, dynamics scrupulously observed and singers sensitively accompanied. – Tony Way
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