HOWELLS When first thine eies unveil
There is something distinctly numinous about the sound of Howells’s choral music, especially for unaccompanied choir, and in the hands of one of its specialists, Paul Spicer, it acquires an enhanced richness and insight into the phrasing of the composer’s long, contrapuntal lines. This recording mixes secular and sacred, just as Ralph Allwood’s fine recording with the Rodolfus Choir did; both choirs share a youthful, iridescent character, although Spicer’s blend perhaps has the edge (though I miss in this programme part-songs such as ‘The summer is coming’). The early Mass in the Dorian Mode and O salutaris hostia (which Spicer recorded for the first time on Chandos back in 1992 with the more mature sonority of the Finzi Singers – 12/92) is sung with control and tranquillity. We are also treated to three premiere recordings: the accompanied anthem When first thine eies unveil (the counterpart of the better-known My eyes for beauty pine), O mortal man, which uses the Sussex Mummers’ Carol, and the contemplative wedding anthem Levavi oculos meos for sopranos and organ, sung with great sensitivity and warmth here. The two five-part madrigals In youth is pleasure and Before me careless lying – products of wartime – are sung with great vivacity and bear witness to Howells’s infatuation with the Tudor art. But for that intangible intensity and mystical atmosphere, the linguistic amalgam of sonorous choral textures, spine-shivering sound-moments and multiple expressive appoggiaturas in Walking in the snow and the magical Long, long ago offer the most eloquent and personal insight into the composer’s inner world. A lovely CD.