Howells Hymnus Paradisi; Concerto for Strings
Both versions of the Hymnus Paradisi are fine, so it may be that the coupling will decide the question of which to choose:
So, both couplings being desirable, choice has not been greatly simplified after all. In the Hymnus Paradisi, the new recording has sharper definition, Willcocks from 1970 having a ‘fatter’ sound. In two movements (Nos. 4 and 5) Willcocks is significantly faster and I think the performance gains. More important, he conducts a more impassioned account: the crescendos have more intensity and even the tranquillo has an emotional concentration, less evident in the Hickox recording, fine as that is. Decisive in my mind is the radiant singing of Heather Harper. Joan Rodgers, with Hickox, is a lovely singer, and long admired, but the quick vibrato on high notes does not suit here. Harper is ideal; the part might have been written for her. Rolfe-Johnson sings sensitively, as does Robert Tear but with voice in fresher bloom. The choral work is excellent in both - and for any listener with a love for this eminently lovable composer, the rash expenditure on both discs would be amply rewarded. The Yeoman is well represented by Alan Opie, and the Concerto has an authoritative performance under Boult, who conducted the premiere. May I add a further pound or two to the bill by urging the purchase (if not already made) of a vocal score of the Hymnus: it’s tempting to hear it as a kind of wash, and following the score makes such a difference to the appreciation of Howells’s clarity of musical purpose.'