Guy Johnston / Stephen Cleobury / Christopher Seaman / Britten Sinfonia / King's College Choir of Cambridge

Howells: Cello Concerto; An English Mass

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This release is likely to get a good deal of publicity due to its status as the final release of Stephen Cleobury as director of the Choir of King's College, Cambridge. However, as president of the Herbert Howells Society, he may not be through with performing the music of this composer just yet. Cleobury deserves kudos for this rather challenging double album; he might easily have compiled a set of favorites of some kind, and enjoyed general acclaim. Instead, he has chosen to go out with a piece of work that makes a deeper connection with tradition. Even though he did not succeed Howells as an organist at Cambridge, he certainly lived and breathed his music, and is as fine an interpreter of it as anyone alive. So, this music is a little Howells survey as well as a Cleobury valedictory, and it succeeds notably on both counts. In addition to choral music, and a set of organ pieces brilliantly realized by Cleobury, there's the lyrical Cello Concerto, performed by Guy Johnston on cello, with the Britten Sinfonia under Christopher Seaman. It's a fine, somehow intimate reading. For Cleobury in his element, sample around on CD 1: the English Mass of 1956, which represented an intentional simplification of Howells' dense, ornate style, is ideally suited to Cleobury and his boys-and-men choristers, but perhaps the highlight of the whole is the limpid Magnificat, a gloriously lyrical, unique response to that text. A fine bookend to Cleobury's Cambridge career.

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