English Visionaries: Vaughan Williams, Gustav Holst, Herbert Howells | Somm SOMMCD0159

English Visionaries: Vaughan Williams, Gustav Holst, Herbert Howells

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Label: Somm

Cat No: SOMMCD0159

Format: CD

Number of Discs: 1

Genre: Vocal/Choral

Release Date: 2nd September 2016



Somm’s new release, English Visionaries, adds yet another delightful CD to its enviable catalogue of English choral music, the fifth disc in the label’s successful collaboration with the Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir and Paul Spicer. Their disc of Ireland and Delius Partsongs (SOMMCD0119) has garnered 5-star reviews whilst their disc of Stanford Partsongs (SOMMCD0128) was chosen as 13th out of 24 discs considered the best new releases of 2013 on Classic FM. Their disc of rare repertoire by Herbert Howells (SOMMCD0140) was Editor’s Choice in Gramophone (December 2014) and received 5 stars in Choir and Organ Magazine.

Above all, the repertoire chosen by Paul Spicer for this disc dispels the thought that the music of Vaughan Williams, Gustav Holst, and Herbert Howells is ‘English’ in a derogatory sense, recalling more Elisabeth Lutyen’s ‘cowpat school’ label than that of ‘visionary’. As is amply demonstrated here, all three were composers of enormous transcendent vision, forging a uniquely English musical revolution.

One need only hear the soaring lines of Howells’s The House of the Mind to recall the rarefied ecstasy of his better-known Hymnus Paradisi. The inexorable build of Vaughan Williams’s Lord, Thou Hast Been our Refuge scales similar heights, as does the otherworldly harmonic and contrapuntal landscape of Holst’s The Evening Watch and Sing Me the Men. Vaughan Williams’s status as a revolutionary is strongly evident in his Mass in G minor, a sublimation of late renaissance music into something powerfully new. He dedicated this inspired work to his friend Gustav Holst in 1921. His post-war (1956), technically virtuosic A Vision of Aeroplanes provides an enormous challenge to the performers, and a marked contrast to the warmth of Prayer to the Father of Heaven with which they open the disc.

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