Howells: Requiem; Vaughan Williams: Mass in G minor
CDH55220 Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
So far, so objective, but this cool, elegant account scarcely begins to probe Howells’ long relationship with a text that was intimately bound up with the life and death of his son, Michael. Howells’ setting of the Latin, dating from around 1932, is an incomplete fragment. When, after a period in which he found himself unable to work following Michael’s death in 1935, Howells was moved to compose a work in the boy’s memory, he drew on an existing Requiem for unaccompanied voices in planning what was to become his masterpiece, Hymnus Paradisi. He intended that it should include a setting of Prudentius’ words of mourning and consolation until a very late stage in the process of composition, but in the end they did not find a place in Hymnus. Nevertheless, this text was often in his mind. In May 1958 he wrote in his diary: ‘Rain and Gloom. But the rain turned away with a sheer beauty of light. Prudentius’ ‘Hymnus Circa Exsequias Defuncti’ kept my mind in safe refuge—as once it did in Sept. 1935 for love of Michael.’
Thoughts of his son’s death were never far away and these beautiful words were there waiting to be set. Is it too fanciful to suggest that in responding to the shock that the whole world felt at the assassination of John Kennedy, a young man in whom much hope for the future had been invested, Howells found the motivation for what must surely be another memorial for Michael?
from notes by Paul Andrews © 2012