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In September 2019 Sir Stephen Cleobury formally retires as director of music at King’s College, Cambridge, after 37 years in charge of one of the most famous choirs in the world. This final release before he leaves is a two-CD set of music by Howells, a composer to whom Cleobury – on the evidence of his contributions to this recording – feels close. For example, he plays the three organ pieces – Paean, Master Tallis’s Testament and Rhapsody no.3 in C sharp minor – with a lifetime’s skill behind them.

The major choral piece is An English Mass, a remarkable work which, as Paul Spicer observes in his excellent liner notes, expresses ‘Howells’s feelings for spirituality rather than religiosity’. If the Te Deum and Magnificat (both Collegium Regale) are more familiar than the Mass, it’s good to have them here in the orchestral guises, the former by Howells himself and the latter orchestrated by John Rutter.

The chief interest of the second disc is the Cello Concerto, of which Howells only completed two movements; the finale remained in sketch form until Jonathan Clinch completed and orchestrated it. His scholarly note in the booklet explains the work’s history admirably. If illness prevented Cleobury from conducting the Cello Concerto, it was fortunate that he could rely on Christopher Seaman, a Kingsman far too little seen in the UK. Indeed, with cellist Guy Johnston (one of Cleobury’s former choristers) as the fine soloist, the whole set is something of a celebration of King’s College music-making in the wider sense. As you would expect from this address, the music-making is of the highest standard. A thoughtfully assembled collection of familiar and unfamiliar Howells, beautifully captured in King’s Chapel, and a marvellous celebration of Cleobury’s contribution to the musical life of the College.

PHILIP REED Read the full review on Agora Classica


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Choir & Organ, 2019 - ©Rhinegold Publishing