on 6 April 2012
Trinity's Howells disc is a stellar affair. Featuring two of the greatest evening services - those dedicated to Gloucester and St. Paul's cathedrals - as well as his motet in memory of JFK and the Requiem he wrote in response to his son Michael's death, the recording balances the private and public Howells. One thing, however, joins the whole enterprise together: the smooth but strident sound of the Trinity choir.
Conductor Stephen Layton inherited a safe but secure instrument from his predecessor Richard Marlow. There's now a more honeyed tone in the choir, echoing his mature professional outfit Polyphony. While the men's sound can't quite thrill in that way - these are, after all, much younger singers - they have a disarming candour. It's an odd contradiction, then, that Lincoln Cathedral was chosen for the accompanied works. On this recording, the organ tends to dominate upper registers. Whether an acoustic flaw, recording anomaly or simple act of registration, the organ is often too forward (if brilliantly played).
But the recordings made in Ely Lady Chapel are sublime. This, for the larger part, is Howells in mourning, tapping into the unspoken life of an Englishman. No holds barred, tenderness and tears come to the fore when confronting the death of his beloved son Michael. Although Trinity cannot quite eclipse the maturity of Paul Spicer's recording on Chandos with the Finzi Singers, this is a beautifully paced performance. The JFK motet 'Take him, earth, for cherishing', on the other hand, leads a very strong field of performances. Precision and shape are balanced, beautifully backlighting Howells' crushing response to Helen Waddell's text.