Italy-based English pianist and organist Christopher Howell
has been a regular feature of Sheva's releases - the
booklet accompanying this new release lists thirteen separate
recordings. This is only the second time, however, that he appears
in his capacity as composer (see review
of first), with this inspired collection of hymns and Biblical
songs for the relatively rare combination of soprano and organ.
The hymns and songs are all originally Italian settings, but
for this recording Howell has used English texts for the former
- all the better to reach wider audiences, presumably. The complete
work is divided into two groups, separated by three gentle organ
preludes. The church setting is intimate, for settings that
are themselves intimate, reflective and musically connected.
The final items have a wistful, almost valedictory tone. Howell's
own organ accompaniment is sensitively and sensibly low-key
throughout. This is unpretentious, tuneful music that should
appeal to congregations far and wide - but there is no reason
for atheists not to like it either.
For purposes of authenticity, it is rarely wise to have songs
with Italian texts performed by an English singer. Many well-known
recordings, ignoring this precept, have been undermined by dubious
pronunciation, but British-born soprano Caroline Goodwin has
been living in Italy for the last two decades. Indeed, her Italian
is excellent, with next to no indication of her foreign provenance.
Her voice itself should have broad appeal, provided the listener
has no strong aversion to breathiness or vibrato. Her enunciation
is generally good in both languages, although in higher dynamics
she occasionally sacrifices clarity for power. Howell's
music frequently tests her breath control with very long phrases,
made all the harder by plunges into lower registers.
Technical quality is good, despite the fact that the recordings
took place over three widely separated sessions. The only blot
is a strange, momentary loss of stereo halfway through track
12, soon followed by an editing join of some description. Booklet
notes are fairly minimalist and written in a slightly odd-sounding
English, although full sung texts with English/Italian translations
and detailed biographies are provided.
Collected reviews and contact at artmusicreviews.co.uk
Christopher Howell has been a musicweb reviewer.
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