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Cat. No. CHAN 241-27 Price: £10.5 No. of discs: 2
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CHAN 241-27 - Howells: Missa Sabrinensis/ Stabat Mater
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Available From: 08 August 2005
Completed in 1965 when Howells was 73, the Stabat Mater was the last of a Holy Trinity of large-scale choral works – the others being Hymnus Paradisi and Missa Sabrinensis – which have established Howells as one of the great twentieth-century masters of vocal-instrumental polyphony. For this work, he made a close study of other composers’ settings of the text, particularly Stanford’s, and kept by him a number of translations. Howells achieves, within the obligatory oneness of mood, a subtle range of treatments, and includes a variety of marvellous inventions. The Stabat Mater was composed against a background of political and personal stress and distress – the Russians’ testing of nuclear weapons in 1961, the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, the Kennedy assassination in 1963, Sir Winston Churchill’s death and state funeral in 1965. Michael, Howells’ son, dead now for more than twenty-five years, was also a powerful presence. All this surely played its part in exacerbating the tension and anguish which pervades the Stabat Mater – it is music of extraordinary desolation and dereliction of spirit. Yet, as in all Howells, agony is ecstasy: sense of loss on the one hand, Beatific Vision on the other. For all its undoubted dimension of theatricality, Howells’ Stabat Mater has immense spiritual integrity and passion.

The Missa Sabrinensis (Mass of the Severn) is the most difficult, technically demanding and ambitious of all Howells’ large-scale works. In his notes for the first performance in 1954 Howells explains, ‘the four individual voices are not allotted extended solos but it is their function to enrich and adorn the contrapuntal texture of the chorus’. The title reflects Howells’ desire to pay tribute to a part of England where he had grown up: the Severn river links the composer’s Gloucestershire birthplace with Worcester, where the work was first performed.
Reviews

…music of radiant splendour, full of affirmation… With Janice Watson, Della Jones, Martyn Hill and Donald Maxwell as soloists, the LSO Chorus in marvellous voice and glowing orchestral playing, the Missa takes its rightful place alongside its illustrious
The Sunday Telegraph on Missa Sabrinensis

Gratitude, then, for an essential contribution towards the re-evaluation of an original visionary…
Gramophone ‘Editor’s Choice’ on Missa Sabrinensis

He [Gennady Rozhdestvensky] brings a spontaneity and fervour that… captures the anguished desperation which Howells sounds to have experienced while he was writing.
The Daily Telegraph on the Stabat Mater

 

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