Having had the good fortune to sing part of Howells's great Collegium Regale service at Ely Cathedral many moons ago, it has always stayed lodged in my memory. This may produce a bias on my part, but I've always considered it one of Howells's finest achievements and it's by far his most popular work on record. The present Hyperion disc is one of very few that gives us the complete service. Indeed, I can only think of one other, the classic Argo recording performed by the choir the work was written for, King's College, Cambridge under Stephen Cleobury. That of course uses an all-male choir, which is the most obvious difference to Stephen Layton's mixed voices as recorded here. I warmed immediately to the full sonorous tone that Layton gets from his singers, and he maintains a slightly swifter tempo than Cleobury that I feel serves the music, particularly the opening 'Jubilate', which is surely one of Howells's most inspired melodies. The famous 'Mag' and 'Nunc' settings are staple diets of Anglican services, and rightly so, a they contain the best of this composer's unique brand of English modality mixed with a tinge of continental exoticism in the harmonies. This is where the inclusion of female voices really helps to give timbral variety.
The extras are well worth having, especially the anthem 'I Love all Beauteous Things', and the two themselves admirably in what are some very tricky accompaniments. The engineers beautifully catch the acoustic of the recording venue, Coventry Cathedral, and though the playing time is not over-generous, I doubt anyone will complain with music-making of this quality.