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Howells: Missa Sabrinensis, etc

Various; The Bach Choir; BBC Concert Orchestra/David Hill (Hyperion)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Missa Sabrinensis; Michael ‘A Fanfare Setting’
Helena Dix (soprano), Christine Rice (mezzo-soprano), Benjamin Hulett (tenor), Roderick Williams (baritone); The Bach Choir; BBC Concert Orchestra/David Hill
Hyperion CDA68294   71:32 mins


For their final instalment of large-scale Howells works for choir and orchestra, the steeply demanding Missa Sabrinensis (1954), David Hill and the Bach Choir have left Naxos for Hyperion. They have also replaced the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra with the BBC Concert Orchestra. The combined forces certainly make a glorious noise, at its most impressive with the extensive Gloria section, while in the Credo with ‘et sepultus est’ the orchestra, finely recorded, sounds suitably tenebrous and macabre, followed by the choir’s startling ‘Et resurrexit’.

There is, though, an even finer recording on Chandos by Gennady Rozhdestvensky with the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, and a superior line-up of soloists, their voices far more incisive and individual yet also making a fine-sounding quartet, in contrast to the rather queasy blend achieved by Hill’s four. Rozhdestvensky is also more convincing in handling Howells’s huge torrents of sound, slightly less hurried and giving some welcome dramatic articulation. David Hill goes instead for ‘fluency’, resulting in sheer volume which at times overwhelms Howells’s ecstatic fervour with the wearying impression that the composer has simply forgotten to turn off the caps lock. Still, the final impression – with Michael ‘A Fanfare Setting’ making a rousing end to this album – is uplifting.


Daniel Jaffé