St John's Magnificat: Choral Works by Herbert Howells

St John's Magnificat: Choral Works by Herbert Howells
Director of Music: 
Andrew Nethsingha
Organ Scholar: 
Timothy Ravalde
Release date: 
March 2010
  • Paul Whelan (Baritone)
  • David Adams (Violin)
  • Alice Neary (Cello)
  • Gareth John (Soloist - Baritone)
  • Francis Williams (Soloist - Tenor)
  • Dominic Kraemer (Soloist - Baritone)
  • Thomas Mullock (Soloist - Treble)
  • Thomas Last (Soloist - Treble)
  • Pablo Strong (Soloist - Tenor)
Record label: 
Catalogue number: 

This recording heralds the beginning of an exclusive recording contract between Chandos and the Choir of St John’s College, Cambridge. All performances will be conducted by Andrew Nethsingha, the Choir’s Director of Music since 2007.

The disc of choral music by Herbert Howells includes two settings of the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis: one setting was written for St John’s, where Howells was Acting Organist during World War II; the other for Gloucester Cathedral in the composer’s native county.

Andrew Nethsingha said, “We are delighted to be embarking on a partnership with such an excellent label as Chandos. With them, we will release a wide variety of repertoire. We have chosen to start with a disc of Howells’ music – Herbert Howells was closely associated with St John’s College for several decades. Two major works written for the St John’s Choir, including “Sequence for St Michael” will feature on the CD. The recording of “By the waters of Babylon”, a deeply moving psalm setting for baritone, violin, cello and organ will be another highlight of the disc.”

This is St John’s College Choir’s first long-term contract with Chandos. However, it has already made a number of recordings for the label, including Mozart’s Requiem and works by Charpentier and Poulenc (conducted by George Guest) and music by Tallis and Gibbons (conducted by Christopher Robinson).

Track list
  1. A Sequence for St Michael, Howells
  2. By the Waters of Babylon, Howells
  3. A Spotless Rose, Howells
  4. Gloucester Service, Howells
  5. Psalm 142, Howells
  6. A Grace for 10 Downing Street, Howells
  7. One Thing Have I Desired, Howells
  8. Like as the Hart, Howells
  9. Collegium Sancti Johannis Cantabrigiense, Howells
  10. Salve Regina, Howells
  11. Te Deum (Collegium Regale), Howells
… Director Nethsingha has a sure touch with Howell’s unique idiom, drawing pleasing interpretations at every turn. Both vocal and instrumental soloists perform splendidly, as does the organist. Chandos delivers its usual pristine sound …” “The album is a revealing one-stop survey for people with little or no Howells in their collections; it further offers a number of rarities that many of the composer’s legion of devotees have probably never heard.


… The Choir of St John’s College under Andrew Nethsingha rises to the very considerable challenges of Howell’s writing – it takes a brave choir to negotitate some of this composer’s ‘un-cathedral’ harmonic progressions and have still have enough breath to get to the end of his seemingly endless, winding melodic lines. Diction is excellent, as is the dynamic contrast …

David Wordsworth, American Record Guide

…Nethsingha clearly likes a robust choral sound, but never at the expense of clarity and musical sense; his 16 trebles can pack a considerable punch, especially with the weight of four countertenors, five tenors and six basses behind them. They need to, because something like the Sequence for St Michael that opens the disc is not remotely dreamy or improvisatory but powerful and dramatic…At the opposite extreme, there are some exquisite miniatures in the anthology too.


…The various small solos are also well taken by choir members: the trebles are excellent and the tenor Pablo Strong in the Sequence for St Michael is another name to watch… Recorded in the chapel of St John’s, the sound is warm and reverberant… The organ scholar Timothy Ravalde aquits himself with distinction …

Piers Burton-Page, International Record Review

If you are at all interested in Howells's church music this disc is an obligatory purchase. What makes it special is the way in which the St John’s, Cambridge choir do more with a piece like Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis written for their own chapel than simply rattle it out mechanically for liturgical purposes. Here the emotion of the music feelingly and unapologetically wells upward to the surface, making raw and immediate spiritual impetus of Howells's writing...Deeply committed also is By the waters of Babylon… which is virtually operatic in its rhetorical impact. There is more fine solo work in A Spotless Rose and A Sequence for St Michael...

Terry Blain, BBC Music Magazine

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Recorded on
23 May 2019


Responses and Preces: Radcliffe
Psalms 110 (Lloyd), 111 (Smart)
Bevan: Magnificat octavi toni
Nunc Dimittis octavi toni
Tavener: The Lord’s Prayer
Boulanger: Lux aeterna
Hymn 486

Latest news

The Choir of St John’s' new album - Magnificat - celebrates their daily tradition of choral Evensong and is released on 25 October 2019.

Choral singing comes no better

Fiona Maddocks, The Observer