The choral music of Herbert Howells works best when it is least stentorian, and the same is true for these performances by the Choir of St John's College Cambridge under Andrew Nethsingha. When Howells strives most mightily, as in the outer sections of his setting of By the Waters of Babylon, he is most likely to fail because he sounds all too clearly like he is striving mightily. At his most intimate, as in the brief A Spotless Rose, he succeeds, because he sounds strong, sincere, and not overly rotund. There is no doubt Howells knows what he's doing, but his taste is questionable, which inevitably casts doubt on his authenticity. One could not doubt conductor Nethsingha's technique or the Cambridge choir's ability. The choir is able to give Howells exactly what he asks for, but it does not have it in them to transform his more bombastic pages into something genuinely affecting. Recorded in rich, deep sound by Chandos, these performances are no better, and no worse, than the music.
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AllMusic Review by James Leonard
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