I Will lift up mine eyes
John Rutter's insert-note tells of many links between these two composers, not the least impressive being his relatively incidental concluding points that ''Stanford referred to Howells as his 'son in music', and that Howells, to his death, wore the signet ring that Stanford bequeathed him''. Musically (granted they were both writing within the world of English church music, albeit from positions slightly off-centre, Stanford with his Irishness, Howells with his mysticism), they contrast sharply enough to make good programme-fellows. Stanford braces, Howells relaxes; Howells deepens, Stanford lightens. Such propositions are perhaps too cut and dried, too bright and breezy, to commend themselves to thoughtful readers, but they will serve as an indication.
The Stanford Magnificat in G, which opens the recital, has the clear lines of a song and its accompaniment suggests the In paradisum of Faure's Requiem; in Howells's Gloucester setting, the organ and voice-parts dissolve like patterns in sky or water, and the comparable association would be with Debussy. Then Stanford's B flat Magnificat and Nunc dimittis, like his Te deum in C, have a vigorous forward movement and are strongly committed to melody, where Howells's anthems and his Requiem seek a kind of ecstasy in stillness. Stanford is perhaps most like Howells in his funeral anthem, I heard a voice from heaven; Howells is most clearly Stanford's 'son in music' in his hymn-tune, Michael.
It is a delightful disc. The singers are fresh-voiced, sensitive to direction, and seem to be incapable of making a raw, ill-balanced or momentarily ugly sound. They have some good soloists in their ranks, especially among the sopranos. Occasionally the accompanied music calls for a bigger sound, with that extra volume that choirboys can sometimes produce, like an organist pulling out a stop we never knew was at his disposal, and similarly one could do with a little more beef in the refined tones of the tenors and basses. In style there is something too impersonal, untroubled, almost bland, to do justice to the first movement, the ''Salvator Mundi'' of Howells's Requiem (comparison with the Finzi Singers, on Chandos, shows what is missing). There are moments too when the organist's choice of registration suggests a liking for a lush and juicy sound deeply suspect to the queasy Anglicanism of your strait-laced reviewer; on the other hand, much that he does makes a strong appeal, so that the accompaniments are always an interesting, positive presence. As on previous discs by the Cambridge Singers, the acoustics of Ely Cathedral play their distinguished part, and, also as before, the programme is admirable both in design and presentation.'