The St Paul’s Service is one of Howells’ most celebrated settings of texts that he returned to time and again. Fashioned specially for a building with a spectacular acoustic, consequently employing a less rapidly changing harmonic rhythm than would be possible in a less resonant building, this is a work in which Howells seems at his most confident and optimistic. It is the biggest boned, the most expansive of all his treatments and justifies its reputation as one of the best of his settings for the Anglican liturgy. The Magnificat sets off sturdily, without introduction, and never looks back, surging forward with just an easing of the pace at the beautiful ‘He remembering His mercy’. The Nunc dimittis, though quiet, is also expansive, building slowly and majestically to its climax. The Glorias in both canticles sweep all before them and make a big feature out of Howells’ characteristic use of the ‘Lydian’ fourth, stretching the tonality before pulling it back to the tonic to almost cataclysmic effect.
from notes by Paul Andrews © 2012