altoman | Springfield, VA | 09/20/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I bought this disc for the Howells Requiem, but was certainly not disappointed by the remainder of the music.
Being a lover of choral music, the quality of the choir is always a central concern for me in choral recordings. This group-only 18 in number but sounding like far more-is truly superb. Their intonation and tuning are true without being sterile-indeed, there is great warmth to their sound and their interpretive approach to these works.
Howells' Sequence for St. Michael is a work that I had never heard before I heard it on this recording. It is stunning from the first cry of "Michael" from the chorus to the end. Not knowing the circumstances of its composition, I can't help but think that Howells' response to this text was colored by the tragic death of his young son, Michael, a tragedy that is reflected in much of Howells' greatest music.
I agree with the earlier reviewer who said that the Vaughan Williams Psalm 90 is a wonderful work, wonderfully done. I am always a bit shy of choral works that incorporate hymns, but this is an exception.
Howells' Requiem was a personal response to the death of his beloved son, which he penned and then put away in a drawer. When he wrote his Hymnus Paradisi, he drew some of the material from this work. Many years later, he showed the manuscript to Sir David Willcocks, who convinced him that the Requiem was a great work in its own right and that Howells should permit it to be published and performed. I find the Requiem to be much more intense and soul-baring than the Hymnus Paradisi, and it receives an incredibly passionate and moving performance on this disc. It does not set the traditional text of a Requiem mass, but texts selected by Howells. There is no Dies Irae here, and, in this context, that is certainly not a loss.
The opening movement, which sets the text "O Saviour of the World" so famous in its setting by John Goss, would make a more-than-welcome alternative to that old warhorse. Howells included settings of two psalms, very beautifully done, two settings of a portion of the Latin "Requiem aeternam" and a rapt vision of heaven in the closing movement, "I heard a voice from heaven." This performance alone, at around 20 minutes, would be worth the price of the entire disc.
If you love the passionate music of Howells, which reaches ecstatic heights in the synthesis of joy and sorrow, this is a recording not to be missed.
First-rate and unusual
Kevin Lash | Princeton, NJ | 04/09/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Along with their recording of Finzi's choral works (Chandos 8936), this was the earliest of the Finzi Singers' remarkable recordings of English choral music for Chandos. Howells' Requiem, becoming quite popular in the USA, has been excellently performed & recorded by several ensembles (including a beautiful rendition by the Dale Warland Singers), and this disc is certainly in that company. The House of the Mind was the Howells piece that blew me away, though -- a rare work, well worth buying this CD. The Vaughan Williams repertoire is also unusual and fascinating. Check out other Finzi Singers' recordings as they traverse the great British repertoire: Bax, Bliss, Finzi, Holst, Leighton, Moeran, Walton, Warlock, and more Howells & VW. All are worthwhile."