Choral Music


A true master and exponent of the British choral music tradition, Herbert Howells’ compositions and settings are brought to life in this collection of his secular and sacred works. Performances come from the youthful talents of The Rodlofus Choir, led by their director Ralph Allwood.

The Rodolfus Choir is made up of singers aged from 16 to 25 who have been chosen from past and present members of Eton College’s summer choral courses for prospective choral scholars. Many members of the choir are choral scholars, some are at music college, and most hope to make a career in music. Ralph Allwood founded the choir in 1984, and has been Precentor and Director of Music at Eton since 1985. We have released two very well received discs with the choir previously – one of choral arrangements by Clytus Gottwald, and another of Vespers by Monteverdi.


What people are saying

"I could listen to the young singers of The Rodolfus Choir all day without tiring or losing my appetite for their collective musicianship and accomplished choral artistry."

Classic FM Magazine


"Put simply, this disc has quality stamped all over it"

BBC Music Magazine
Recording & Performance *****


"One can only marvel at the group’s remarkable collective skill and cohesion"

Fanfare Magazine

The Rodolfus Choir
Directed by Ralph Allwood

Release date:26th Apr 2010
Order code:SIGCD190
Barcode: 635212019023

The Observer, May 2010

You can measure a choir by how well it sings Herbert Howells’s music. Does it make sense of those long vocal lines? Can it sustain them? How will it cope with those tricky intervals? But these are not problems to detain these youthful singers, who sing with the sensitivity and precision you would expect of the next generation of choral scholars. They give some lovely accounts in this interesting collection, particularly "One thing I desire" and the great canticle settings, those huge monuments in the landscape of 20th-century sacred music.

Stephen Pritchard

Classic FM Magazine, September 2010

It’s tempting for choirs to programme Herbert Howells’s Requiem or his Take him earth for cherishing. Conductor Ralph Allwood charts a less obvious but no less satisfying repertoire course for his latest Signum Classics album. I could listen to the young singers of The Rodolfus Choir all day without tiring or losing my appetite for their collective musicianship and accomplished choral artistry. Listen, for instance, to the ringing intonation and blend in the tricky central section of The summer is coming and to the vigour of Antiphon. Allwood’s choristers, the talented youth of austere times, provide good cause for future.

Andrew Stewart

BBC Music Magazine, September 2010
Recording & Performance *****

Eschew vibrato as a choir, and you risk the ignominy of uncovering all kinds of approximations in pitch, ensemble and inflection. While few groups can withstand such scrutiny, the Rodolfus ensemble can. It comprises of recent ‘graduates’ of conductor Ralph Allwood’s famous Eton Choral Courses. Their expertise is obvious in the unaccompanied setting ‘The Summer is Coming’ which opens this recital: the purity and unanimity of the soprano monodies at the piece’s beginning are later matched by the poised articulacy of the other voices, nailing tight, adjacent intervals pin-perfectly while maintaining the type of relaxed vocal production that betokens true class and technical quality. It’s not just technical quality that’s on offer here, however. The supple account of ‘A Spotless Rose’ is full of expressivity, as are the potentially mechanistic ululations of ‘Sing Lullaby’, where the shifting dynamic contours of the piece are traced in enviably organic fashion. Lots of work has been done on the weighting and sound quality of consonants: the choir’s deftness and unobtrusive single-mindedness in this area adds an extra frisson of communication to even as brief a setting as ‘God be in my Head’. Put simply, this disc has quality stamped all over it, and it’s graced by Paul Andrews’s exemplary notes.

Terry Blain

Fanfare Magazine, July 2011

Virtually all previous recordings of choral works by Herbert Howells have been exclusively devoted to his various sacred compositions- hardly surprising, given that Howells was arguably the greatest composer of liturgical music in the 20th century. This CD refreshingly adds to the mix a few of Howells’s secular choral pieces as well-specifically, The Summer Is Coming, Sweetest of Sweets, and Walking in the Snow, plus A Grace for 10 Downing Street, the non-liturgical invocation composed in 1972 for then prime minister and amateur conductor Edward Heath. Spanning some 56 of the composer’s 90 years, from 1918 to 1976, they present the full panoply of his compositional techniques, ranging from employment of church modes to the influences of French Impressionism, but are all recognizably the products of their maker, whose art became increasingly refined and complex over the years but remained thoroughly consistent in its fundamentals. Among the lesser-known works presented here, the most substantial are the Dallas Canticles. Whereas Howells wrote most of his service music for English cathedrals, this set from 1975 (the last of more than 20 settings by the composer) was provided instead for St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Dallas, where a former Howells pupil was the organist and choir director, and a wealthy local philanthropist paid the commission fee. However, there is evidence suggesting that the works were originally intended for Durham Cathedral; such are the financial exigencies of musical composition.

The Rodolphus Choir is a polished ensemble of about 30 young singers, 16 to 25 years old, who are students and graduates of Eton. Its sonorities are bright and noticeably favor the treble end of the frequency spectrum over the somewhat subdued tenors and basses. Particularly noteworthy is its excellent diction, which makes it possible to follow most of the pieces without texts on hand; intelligibility is aided further by a well-considered recorded acoustic that is clear and not too reverberant. Texts are provided for all selections except Long, Long Ago and Walking in the Snow, omitted for copyright reasons. (The Naxos CD 8.554659 of music by Howells has the text of the former). Rather frustratingly, only three of the four carol-anthems are recorded (Like as the Hart Desireth is omitted), and the others are interspersed throughout the set instead of presented en bloc. For the Howells completist this disc has, so far as I can find, the only recordings in print of God Be in My Head and Walking in the Snow; most of the other selections have only one other recording in print, though for several pieces that is the top-notch one of the Chandos two-CD budget set with the Finzi Singers under Paul Spicer, Howells’s pupil and biographer. Consequently, this disc will likely serve as a supplement for most Howells devotees; but as such it is a worthy one, as well as a welcome addition to any choral collection in general.

James A. Altena

Musicweb International, July 2011

From the very opening of this disc – a mixture of sacred and secular choral works – the Rodolfus Choir, under the astute directorship of Ralph Allwood, capture Howells’s idiom perfectly, and their understanding of this music is reflected in the high quality of their performances. They commence with The Summer is Coming, a brooding and complex work, written in memory of Arnold Bax, and the disc also features the much-loved Three Carol-Anthems – Sing Lullaby, A Spotless Rose and Here is the Little Door, here sung beautifully – although I found the soloist a little strained in A Spotless Rose. Howells composed his George Herbert settings Sweetest of Sweets and Antiphon very late on in life. Written for the Bach Choir at the suggestion of Sir David Willcocks, these are both brilliantly crafted works – harmonically adventurous and complicated, but one of my very few criticisms of this disc is that the male voices appear rather weak in Antiphon. The female voices are, in fact, stronger and more secure as a general rule throughout this recording, and they are particularly outstanding in One Thing Have I Desired, a work commissioned by St Matthew’s, Northampton. Other works presented include the Collegium Regale Te Deum and Jubilate, the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis from the Dallas Service (commissioned by the director of music at St Luke’s Episcopal Church in Dallas – American Anglicans were great followers of Howells’s music at that time), and God be in my head. The latter was a composition demonstration that Howells gave to a pupil, written within the student’s hour-long lesson. The Rodolfus Choir here give a glowing account of this simple but incredibly effective piece. Another striking work on the disc is A Grace for 10 Downing Street. Edward Heath asked Howells to compose grace for a dinner to be held at 10 Downing Street in honour of William Walton – and at which the Queen Mother as well as other distinguished guests would be present. The performance here indicates how apt a start this Grace would have been to a truly impressive occasion. The disc concludes with A Hymn for St Cecilia, commissioned by the Worshipful Company of Musicians to celebrate Howells’s time as Master of the Company. It is a splendid conclusion to an excellent disc of exquisite and radiant singing.

Em Marshall

  1. The Summer is Coming – –
  2. Sweetest of Sweets – –
  3. Sing Lullaby – –
  4. One Thing Have I Desired – –
  5. A Spotless Rose – –
  6. Antiphon – –
  7. Walking in the Snow – –
  8. A Grace for 10 Downing Street – –
  9. Here is the Little Door – –
  10. God be in my head – –
  11. Long, Long ago – –
  12. Te Deum (Collegium Regale) – –
  13. Jubilate (Collegium Regale) – –
  14. Magnificat (Dallas Canticles) – –
  15. Nunc Dimittis (Dallas Canticles) – –
  16. A Hymn for St Cecilia – –