Choir of the Queen's College, Oxford / Owen Rees

The House of the Mind

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The English cathedral style is a tradition in the deepest sense of the word, which accounts in part for its greater durability than music in styles motivated by the quaint Victorian idea of inevitable progress. Go back 500 years, and you can step in at any point and take a cross-section that traces clear lines of influence over several generations. That's what's been done here by the Choir of Queen's College, Cambridge, under director Owen Rees. They place at the center of the program by Herbert Howells, with the most substantial work being one that's not often sung: 1954's The House of the Mind, a setting of a work by the 17th-century metaphysical poet Joseph Beaumont, about the mind as the refuge of God in the human organism, that plays to the sense of ecstasy and mystery at the heart of his best music, with Howells deliberately unfolding the meanings of its four stanzas over nine-and-a-half minutes. Sample this piece and note the ease with which the singers approach it. The program goes backward and forward from Howells, touching on his teacher, Charles Villiers Stanford, and perhaps his primary inspiration, Vaughan Williams, as well as several of Howells' contemporaries, and contemporary composers who have followed him in one way or another including Nico Muhly, the American who is at last showing signs of having cracked this very British club. He sets the Like as a hart text also set by Howells. The end result is a collection of sacred music that beautifully conveys the meditative quality of the texts involved.

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