The Epiphany Season
Online at the BBC this week, don't miss the choir of Hereford Cathedral singing the evening service Herbert Howells composed for them.
It is a lush, beautiful service which is rarely heard.
Howells, like a fine wine only got better with age (but was able to get you drunk all along). His later works are always intoxicating.
In Howells's extensive catalog or services it is the fourth to last service he composed. Written in 1969, it is succeeded only by settings written for Magdalene College, York and Dallas, Texas.
The Hereford service is authored by a fully mature Howells, and one who writes with increasing density. Standing in opposition to the harmonic activity is the opening of the Magnificat. The movement, like several other evening services by Howells, begins with a lyrical treble line. The full choir enters at the words "for he that is mighty".
Upon first hearing, one might be tempted to say that the Magnificat delves into the richness of Howells fully-developed harmonic language of complex flexibility and surprise. Certain moments sound as if they are poised spin out of control harmonically, but this is only an illusion. Howells has provided a sure foundation for these passages, and their resolution is powerfully satisfying.
The Nunc Dimittis seems to be a summary of the same ideas, but without all the arcane tangents -- just a hint at where they might have gone. It is much more innocent, but pleasingly so.
Cheat sheet: In the audio file at the BBC, the Magnificat starts at 20:50; Nunc dimittis at 29:37
Also noteworthy: the particularly lovely introit, "View me Lord" by Richard H. Lloyd.
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