Howells from Hereford
One sometimes feels Howells must have left the odd Mag and Nunc behind him like a visiting card almost wherever he went. Cleopatra’s encomium of the dead Anthony – “Realms and islands were as plates dropped from his pocket” – comes to mind. This recital has four of them: one for each of the three-choir cities and, first and most renowned of the series, that for King’s College, Cambridge. Each has its own character though all are unmistakably from the same hand. King’s (Collegium Regale) is both the most intimate and the most opulent; Gloucester the most mystical; Worcester the most light of heart, and Hereford the most angular. Always there comes an exciting injection of vigour at “He hath shown strength with his arm” and a feeling of inspired breadth at “And to be the glory of his people Israel”. The Glorias themselves are always an occasion for colour and choral enrichment. The anthems heard here (“Like as the hart”, with its yearning “blues” tone, the most characteristic) exploit choir and organ with similarly exalted effect. The exception is the Collegium Regale Morning Service where the manner is more forthright, more distinctly music of the morning.
The choir’s performance captures this freshness splendidly, and it gives the recital an invigorating start. Particularly admirable throughout is the finely shaded, sympathetic interchange between choir and organ. As in previous recordings, the choir does credit to its director, Geraint Bowen, singing with keen attentiveness and consistently pleasing tone. Comparing King’s itself (under Stephen Cleobury, 7/92), the main difference lies in the nature of the recorded sound – King’s, the men especially, have much more immediacy. The Hereford recording, by comparison, conveys a natural, and restful, sense of occupying a customary seat in the Cathedral. I think I prefer it.