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I talk about discoveries, and this album, “Herbert Howells” with Gloriae Dei Cantores is full of them. Howells is is a 20th century British composer who has composed a huge number of religious choral works– Surprising because he wasn’t all that religious. The Choir, Gloriae Dei Cantores, and its director Elizabeth C. Patterson, is superb. And The Church of the Transfiguration in Orleans, Massachusetts is absolutely lovely. It’s architecture is fourth-century, but it was dedicated in June of 2000.
There are four works by Howells here. A Sequence for Saint Michael, Requiem (written after the death of Howells’ son), Take Him, Earth, for Cherishing (written for a memorial after the assassination of John F. Kennedy), and Te Deum ( written for the National Cathedral in Washington DC). These pieces are exquisitely simple, yet impressionistic and heart rending.
Gloriae Dei Cantores is made up of 33 voices, slightly more than half of whom are members of religious orders. The acoustics and organ are perfect and perfectly captured. I could go on and on about this release, but I want you to just listen to the samples. This is peaceful, loving music.
Ernest Hemmingway is quoted in the notes as saying, “If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is A Moveable Feast.” The excellent Stockholm Syndrome Ensemble takes us back to 1907 Paris with the works of three composers who were there at the time and were in the same circle of friends. Maurice Ravel, Manuel de Falla, and the younger Ralph Vaughan Williams who was there to study Orchestration with Ravel. The Vaughan Williams Piano Quintet in C minor will surprise you if you’re expecting pastoral British Countryside. It is a delightful beginning to the program. Then we go to two works by Ravel, including his Le Tombeau de Couperin, which never sounded so delicate as it does in this arrangement. The exciting finale is Falla’s Ritual Fire Dance from “El Amor Brujo” which gains clarity in this version for sextet. This is one of my favorite releases this year. Wouldn’t be something be in Paris in those days when the arts were so alive!
And speaking of that incredible time in Paris, Michael Lewin brings his considerable talent to Starry Night– Preludes Book I and Other Works by Claude Debussy. It’s a strong performance. He’s not holding back, but he’s not pounding his Steinway either. If you love the piano, if you love Debussy, you will find this recording to be simply amazing– both the playing and a recording that doesn’t skimp on showcasing the instrument and the music.