HOWELLS Stabat Mater
It is now 20 years since Howells’s substantial setting of the Stabat mater was recorded by Gennadi Rozhdestvensky and the LSO on Chandos. A work deeply imbued by the composer’s grief at the loss of his son from polio, its first performance dates from 1965, 15 years after the premiere of its other cathartic counterpart, Hymnus Paradisi. Though there is much emotional turbulence in this music, Hill maintains a compelling life and forward momentum in Howells’s immensely contrapuntal score (it being three minutes shorter than Rozhdestvensky’s) and this interpretation also benefits from the serendipity of a vocal score with the composer’s tempo revisions which Hill chanced upon shortly before the recording was made. The Bach Choir has a palpable vibrancy in its range and layers of dynamics which are complemented by the extensive and highly sensitive palette of Howells’s orchestra (beautifully executed here by the Bournemouth SO) and the incisive solo tenor role of Benjamin Hulett. Particularly impressive are the opening movement, the procession-like ‘Cujus animam genentem’ and the powerfully climactic last two movements, ‘Fac ut portem’ and ‘Christe, cum sit hine exire’, true tours de force of balance and textural control.
Hill’s exhilarating affinity for this music is also evident in the orchestral, neo-Elizabethan fantasy Sine nomine of 1922 (written, I would argue, during Howells’s most fecund period), an example of impressionistic pastoralism at its most numinous, while the orchestration of the Te Deum, composed in 1944 for King’s College, Cambridge, transforms the familiar into something quite new. A stunning disc.