Those who have sung Howells's church music know how fluidly he matches it with text, how closely the cadences of words are reflected in the ebb and flow of notes on the stave. The Trinity College singers understand this, and a sense of their effortlessly catching the wave of Howells's inspiration suffuses these extremely fresh performances, nowhere more so than in the two Morning Canticles which bookmark this new collection.
All of the complete service Howells wrote for King's College, Cambridge—the Collegium Regale—is included. The Evening Service boasts some beautifully controlled singing from the sopranos in particular, their deft tapering of quiet dynamics in the Magnificat heightening the introspective quality of Howells's setting. The plangency deepens with the outstanding tenor solo of Jamie Roberts in the Nunc dimittis. The long crescendo building to the Gloria is a Stephen Layton speciality, and the peroration glows with healthfulness and surety.
You could take dictation from the two Psalm settings, so clean is the diction, so revealing Layton's phrasing and punctuation. The unquiet harmonies in the late I love all beauteous things provide the most intriguing music of the recital, the briefly flaring climaxes doing little to suspend the lingering mood of uneasiness expertly distilled by Layton and his singers. Hyperion's engineers working in Coventry Cathedral, capture the sound atmospherically. There are many excellent Howells CDs in the catalogue, but you'll go a long way to find performances that understand his music better, or wear their sensitivity so lightly.