Three Choirs Festival Chorus - Howells: Hymnus Paradisi

Friday 1st August 1997
Three Choirs Festival Chorus - Howells: Hymnus Paradisi

STYLE: Choral
RATING 8 8 8 8 8 8 8 8
LABEL: BBC Radio Classics 1565691972

Reviewed by John Irvine

Herbert Howells (1892-1983) remains as one of Britain's finest choral composers and will be long remembered for his "Requiem" and "Hymnus Paradisi" which were both written in the years after 1935 in response to the sudden death of his nine year old son. Michael. In many ways he never got over this loss, and his grief coloured all of his compositions. For "Hymnus Paradisi" Howells drew on the Psalms. the Book Of Common Prayer and the Missa Pro Defunctis which he believed to be "immemorial reflections upon the transient griefs and indestructible hopes of mankind." The score remained private until fellow composer Vaughan Williams persuaded Howells to have the work performed at the 1950 Three Choirs festival, where it was a great success. This present recording from the BBC archives was made at the 1977 Three Choirs festival under the baton of conductor Donald Hunt (who had been at the 1950 premier) and with Herbert Howells in the audience. Despite being recorded 20 years ago in the predigital days in a live environment, the recording has stood the test of time, and could easily hold its own against more recent interpretations. 'Hymnus Paradisi" is a example of everything that is right about the English choral tradition: long sustained melodic passages for the soloists, warm rich orchestral accompaniment, colourful and vibrant choral sections. And while this work is obviously tinged with sorrow, overwhelmingly this is an expression of hope, an expression of the belief that there is a purpose in even the most tragic of deaths, that questioning and doubting will be resolved in the life to come. Even if grief is not fully resolved, there is sufficient hope to keep us going.

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.

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Reader Comments

Posted by Caroline Gilderdale in York @ 04:53 on Aug 3 2017

Hello. Where can I get of this recording? I actually sang in this 1977 performance! I am a friend of Donald Hunt and his family, although I have lived away from Worcester for nearly 40 years! I know how much this work meant to Donald. Also, I have just heard it performed at this year's Three Choirs Festival! Many thanks for your help!

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