London Symphony Chorus And Orchestra - Howells: Stabat Mater

Wednesday 1st February 1995
London Symphony Chorus And Orchestra - Howells: Stabat Mater

STYLE: Choral
RATING 8 8 8 8 8 8 8 8
LABEL: Chandos 9314

Reviewed by John Irvine

Completed and first performed in 1965, the "Stabat Mater" was Howells' third and last large-scale choral work and was composed against a background of political turmoil - the Cuban Missile Crisis (1962) and the Kennedy assassination of 1963 being two notable examples. The favourite pupil of Stanford, Howells was influenced for life by the music of Parry and Stanford. It took him many years to escape the Edwardian time warp of his influences and find his own mode of expression. Even in the late work of the "Stabat Mater", the overweight and unnecessary Edwardian period baggage is still evident. Originality both shines through and wins through however. Although the work appears to be unvaried, dominated as it is by a single mood, the subject matter of the text, Howells achieves a great range of subtle variations, from the austere and severe opening, to a gloomy and lurid second movement, to moments of blinding choral glory. Throughout there are suggestions of great turbulence - a great storm is on the horizon heading our way. The final movement is centred on a funeral march in which life, light and hope, are extinguished. This is the first ever recording. Since 1965 the work has been virtually forgotten. Chandos should be congratulated for bringing it back into the public eye. Hopefully this impassioned performance with Neil Archer as the tenor soloist will go a long way to introducing this work to a new generation. The choir and orchestra do their very best to bring out the subtleties of Howells' piece and hit the right spot every time. Sound quality is remarkably clear and precise with a very pleasing balance between choir and orchestra. This is music of great spiritual integrity and passion. Turn down the lights, turn up the sound and prepare to be immersed in pure raw emotion.

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