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Herbert HOWELLS (1892-1983)
Hymnus Paradisi (1938) [46:42] ¹ ²
A Kent Yeoman’s Wooing Song (1933) [18:21] ¹ ³
Joan Rodgers (soprano) ¹
Anthony Rolfe Johnson (tenor) ²
Alan Opie (baritone) ³
BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus/Richard Hickox
rec. November 1988, All Saints’ Church, Tooting, London
Texts and translations included
CHANDOS CHAN 10727X [65:12]

Experience Classicsonline

It’s nearly a quarter of a century since this disc was originally released by Chandos and its reissue forms part of The Hickox Legacy. It still retains a strong and prominent place in the catalogue. Not only was it the cause of the first ever recording of the unusual, and unusually outward-going A Kent Yeoman’s Wooing Song but it gave us a first-class Hymnus Paradisi with first-class soloists.
A Kent Yeoman’s Wooing Song was written for the baritone Keith Falkner and his bride Christabel in 1933. They knew about it at the time but it wasn’t until twenty years later that Howells presented it to them, now fully orchestrated, acknowledging with a degree of understatement that ‘no two people ever received a more delayed Wedding Present’. It’s scored for baritone, soprano, chorus and orchestra and the texts Howells chose come from a favoured period of his, around 1600. The music is variously frank, extrovert, salty and often demanding vocally. The longest movement, and the most obviously characteristic is the third, the longest, where long-breathed passages and warmly textured string writing evoke most raptly the composer of distinguished and far better known string and choral works. This is not to say that Howells is only truly himself in this movement, as he clearly responds gleefully to the more riotous aspects of the texts elsewhere. The performance is extremely successful, conveying the dynamism and energy very well.
There have been a number of highly recommendable recordings of Hymnus Paradisi and there’s no doubt that this one is prominent among them. Hickox’s years as a choral trainer held him in fine stead for those many undertakings on disc and with him he has a responsive BBC Symphony and Chorus to work with. He is equally fortunate with his singers, Joan Rodgers and Anthony Rolfe Johnson, as indeed he was with Rodgers and Alan Opie in the companion work. The Preludio is well-paced, reaches passionate crests, and is symphonically strong. Chandos’s characteristically spacious sound adds beneficence to the choral singing in particular but doesn’t blunt the solo contributions: Rodgers has a taut and somewhat insistent vibrato but varies her tone - her ‘withheld’ tone in The Lord is My Shepherd is especially attractive - managing to soar powerfully, as she does later in the same movement, with few limitations. Rolfe Johnson’s mellifluous voice retains body even when Howells pushes it high, as he does in I heard a voice from Heaven, the fifth movement. And presiding over all, Hickox digs into that little Waltonian section in the Sanctus - it always strikes me as Belshazzar-like at any rate - with gusto.
Despite the competition here - Vernon Handley (Hyperion) most prominently - Hickox and his forces reinforce a strong claim in this disc.
Jonathan Woolf  

See also review by John Quinn

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