This re-release of Herbert Howells’s Hymnus Paradisi and A Kent Yeoman’s Wooing Song forms part of the new commemorative Hickox Legacy series on Chandos Records, leading up to (and continuing beyond) the fifth anniversary, in Nov 2013, of the conductor’s untimely death.
The reputation of Herbert Howells has reached new heights in recent years, no doubt helped by recordings such as this one of Hymnus Paradisi. Howells wrote the work in memory of his young son Michael who had died of polio at the age of nine. It is not a conventional requiem, in that it does not contain the whole text of the Requiem Mass. Instead it sets Psalms 23 and 121 with ‘I heard a voice from heaven’ and words from the Salisbury Diurnal, ‘Holy is the True Light’. It is an intense and powerfully emotional work – the composer’s attempt to come to terms with personal tragedy.
BBC Music Magazine wrote of Hickox’s performance of Hymnus Paradisi: ‘[He] brings passionate commitment to his performance and shapes Howells’s long lines lovingly. He is aided by the fine playing of the BBC Symphony Orchestra and sensitive choral singing.’
The secular cantata A Kent Yeoman’s Wooing Song was intended as a wedding present for the baritone Keith Falkner and his bride, Christabel – although they had to wait two decades for the work to be presented to them. ‘No two people ever received a more delayed wedding present’, Howells wrote to them, adding that it came ‘with apologies and affection’.
The Wooing Song features Howells in an unusually extrovert mood, in music set to texts dating from the 1600s. Words from Thomas Vautor’s sprightly madrigal Mother, I will have a husband (sung here by Joan Rodgers) provides the girl’s side of the story, while ‘I have House and Land in Kent’ (sung by Alan Opie), a text adapted from the composer Thomas Ravenscroft’s Melismata, gives the suitor’s perspective on courting.