Howells: Stabat mater

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LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Stabat mater
PERFORMER: Neill Archer (tenor)London Symphony Orchestra & Chorus/Gennady Rozhdestvensky
Herbert Howells’s little known Stabat mater has rarely been performed. It is stark, intensely dramatic, violent even. Yet it has a compelling, dimmed beauty. It is very moving; indeed Howells was clearly deeply moved when writing it. Christopher Palmer’s booklet notes chart its composition against Howells’s Sixties diary entries covering the Cuban missile crisis, the Kennedy assassination and anniversaries of the death of his own son, etc. Thus one senses an additional allegorical apocalyptic vision.


The score is full of invention and subtlety, varying the oneness of mood and satisfying and intriguing the ear, for example the via dolorosa opening of the second movement with its mournful tread of lower strings and percussive piano, and the jagged string figure beginning the last movement so that Christ’s pain seems to pierce your very core.


Rozhdestvensky and his forces excel throughout. The huge choral and orchestral climaxes, such as the turbulence of the ‘Sancta mater’, are overwhelming but have great clarity. Neill Archer is radiantly beatific, consolatory and protective as he views the Holy Mother at the foot of the cross, and powerful as his voice projects easily over chorus and orchestra to affirm ‘Let me be wounded by his wounds’. A deeply impressive work, if an uncomfortable one. Ian Lace