Howells’ Stabat Mater – commissioned and now recorded by The Bach Choir

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Howells’ Stabat Mater – commissioned and now recorded by The Bach Choir

We are delighted to announce the release, on 1 September, of our latest disc in our English music series on the Naxos label.  Commissioned by The Bach Choir in the 1950s, Howells undertook to write the Stabat Mater only if he was not held to a deadline.  In the end, he took nine years over the work, and The Bach Choir gave the world premiere in 1965, under Sir David Willcocks.

A month before the recording sessions, which took place in November/December 2013, David Hill was fortunate enough to stumble upon David Willcocks’ original score of the Stabat Mater, in a private collection in Rhode Island.  The copy was marked up by the composer himself, with Howells indicating that nearly all the published metronome markings were incorrect.  These numerous tempo changes, as well as Howells’ other markings, have been adhered to in this recording.

Howells described Sine Nomine as a ‘spiritual meditation’ and scored the work for orchestra, wordless soloists and chorus.  Following a poor first performance in 1922, the work disappeared, only re-emerging some 70 years later in a new edition by Paul Spicer. This is the premiere recording of the work.

The Te Deum was composed in 1944 when Howells was temporarily holding the post of organist of King’s College, Cambridge.  The orchestral accompaniment was added by the composer in 1977.

Writing in the Observer, Stephen Pritchard gives this recording four stars, describing it as ‘a fine reading’.  Read the full review.

The Bach Choir is very grateful to the Herbert Howells Trust for its generous support, without which this recording would not have been possible.