Review By Penguin Guide,January 2009
No composer this century has surpassed Herbert Howells in the beauty and imagination of his Anglican church music. Naxos here offers a generous selection, in seductive performances from the Choir of St John’s College, Cambridge, that match and almost surpass any previous versions. This will have King’s Choir down the road looking to its laurels, helped by immaculate sound, at once atmospheric and cleanly focused.
Review By David Vernier,ClassicsToday.com,June 2000
Herbert Howells' choral masterpiece, the Requiem, has been well served on CD and this performance from one of Cambridge's legendary choirs adds itself to the list of solid, thoughtful, well-prepared readings. For all its sincerity and technical polish, however, it can't compete with the performance by the Corydon Singers (Hyperion), which finds and conveys a deeply moving spirituality in the work that few other choirs achieve (the Finzi Singers' very resonant recording for Chandos is one). Compare, for instance, the disturbingly beautiful "Requiem aeternam (1)" movements: the St. John's choir shaves this crucial section down to just under three minutes; the Finzi gives it nearly three and three-quarters minutes, the Corydon almost four and one half!
Of course, it takes a strong, well-disciplined, and mature choir to do this, and this piece may be slightly beyond these singers' reach. The rest of the program is much more firmly in the choir's grasp of music and meaning, from the delightful anthem Like as the hart, the engaging, masterful setting of the Magnificat and Nunc dimittis, and the oft-recorded gem Take Him, Earth, for Cherishing, commissioned for the Washington Cathedral memorial service for John F. Kennedy in 1964. The organ solos by Iain Farrington are lovely and powerful, spacious yet detailed, a fair match for both Stephen Cleobury's Rhapsody (Argo) and Edward Higginbottom's Paean (CRD).
Howells was largely responsible for creating, through its textures and harmonic language, music that has come to define the sound of 20th century English church music. Rising from the influences of Vaughan Williams, Stanford, Parry, and Holst, his compositional style took a turn off the well-trod path of his predecessors, slightly more daring, more challenging, yet always well-crafted and serious. This fine program contains many and varied examples that show why Howells will be regarded as one of the last century's most influential and original composers.