John Barnett

Howells: Missa Sabrinensis; Michael ‘A Fanfare Setting’ – Choral CD review

1:16, 1st July 2020

Howells: Missa Sabrinensis; Michael ‘A Fanfare Setting’

Helena Dix (s), Christine Rice (m-s), Benjamin Hulett (t), Roderick Williams (bar), Bach Choir, BBC Concert Orchestra / David Hill (dir)

Hyperion CDA 68294 [71:32]


By any standards, this recording of Howell’s Missa Sabriensis (Mass of the Severn) is a major event and superior in every way to the work’s previous account on disc. Composed for the 1954 Three Choirs Festival, the Missa Sabrinensis unfolds as a powerful choral symphony, especially rich in counterpoint, formal structure and independent orchestral writing. While its musical language is always recognisably Howells, it nevertheless embraces something of the Gallic impressionist beauty of Debussy and Ravel. Led by conductor David Hill, who clearly believes in every note of this piece, the Bach Choir, BBC Concert Orchestra and the fine quartet of soloists offer an exhilarating performance, which reveals this work to be a forgotten British masterpiece from the middle of 20th century. The brief makeweight is an arrangement of Howells’s most celebrated hymn tune, named after his son who died, aged 9.


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