“The Hymnus Paradisi is music awash with ecstasy, and the listener may resist becoming part of this swimmingly coloured dream. But further listening proves this is not so: that is, the better you know it, the more you see in it of form, energy and pain. The pain is real enough, as biographical facts attest. Howells wrote it as a method of escape from 'the crippling numbness of loss', as he described the effect upon him of his son's death from polio at the age of ten. The work was so full of the emotion of that time that for many years it had to remain private, and it was only with the approach of the 15th anniversary of the death that he showed it to Vaughan Williams and arrangements were made for its inclusion in the Three Choirs Festival of 1950. A strong performance helps, and Vernon Handley brings real intensity: there is a feeling for the dramatic quality in the score, the crises and relaxations, without losing sight of the essential lyricism. The soloists on the recording sing with sensitivity and pleasing tone.”
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