I am a person who basically loves music but is uneducated therein. So I don't feel competent to write reviews. However, as often the case, I heard it on the radio and thought I might like it. Felt a bit underwhelmed.
A splendid version of this great piece of English choral music (Hymnus Paradisi) Lovely orchestral and choral sound with soloists that sound at ease and very "English" in the best sense of the word. If you don't know the piece, try it.
Herbert Howells, around the time of the First World War, was one on England's most promising composers. He produced a series of astoundingly original chamber works of incredible beauty e.g the fantasy string quartet and piano quartet. There were some brilliant short orchestral pieces, too. Later, his second piano concerto was slammed by the critics and, being a sensitive man, he retired into himself. In the mid-thirties, his son Kendrew developed either mengingitis or polio and quickly died. Howells was absolutely devasted and it was a pain he never escaped. It was his daughter, Ursula, who suggested he might write some music to help externalise the grief. He did and this resulted in the Requiem. Howells never intended this for publication. It was to be private to him. Out of this requiem (which has been recorded) sprang this present work, Hymnus Paradisi. It was completed before the Second World War but was not performed until the Three Choirs Festival at Gloucester in 1950. I was priveliged to have have been at the last performance Howells attended, at Hereford in the late 70s. He sat towards the back of the cathedral, small, snowy haired and still handsome with a black stick between his knees. Afterwards, I met him and asked him if he remembered a letter I had written to him. 'No!' he said gruffly and turned to a pretty girl. This is a towering masterpiece, quite unlike any other choral work. Whatever you read about this will mention light - lux aeterna. Howells' harmonies are very complex, and that applies to the choral writing as well as the orchestra. It is extremely difficult to perform. In a good, performance such as this, there is a pervading radiance of the sound, blazing light. Sound cannot be light but here it feels as if it is. Howells could not have raised a greater monument to poor little Kendrew. That knowledge makes it all the more overwhelming to the listener. The terrible grief of a father for his little son, one guesses only partly expunged by the writing of this great work. If you have never heard Hymnus Paradisi, I do urge you to try. This is a fine performance given by Julie Kennard, John Mark Ainsley, the RLP choir and orchestra under Vernon Handley. The English Mass with written in 1955. It is written in the proper form of the mass but the string orchestra, flute, oboe, timpani, harp and organ excludes liturgical use, so might be performed at a concert in a cathedral. It is a powerful and beautiful piece but listen to it first or later. The white heat of Hymnus Paradisi obliterates almost anything. I only say this because it is second on the disc. This is a very fine work, with all Howells' trademarks - the wonderful orchestration and choral writing, brilliant use of the organ and those pellucid harmonies.
Howells has written the most exquisite music, and these are amongst his finest achievements. It is hard not to be moved when listening to the music, particularly in light of the personal story which led to the Requiem. I find it hard to go too long without listening to such amazing choral works. I find it constantly in my CD player