Welcome to Hyperion Records, an independent British classical label devoted to presenting high-quality recordings of music of all styles and from all periods from the twelfth century to the twenty-first.

Hyperion offers both CDs, and downloads in a number of formats. The site is also available in several languages.

Please use the dropdown buttons to set your preferred options, or use the checkbox to accept the defaults.

Click cover art to view larger version
Track(s) taken from KGS0032-D

An English Mass

1955; composed for Harold Darke and the St Michael Singers
author of text
Anglican Communion service

King's College Choir Cambridge, Britten Sinfonia
Studio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available
Studio Master:
Studio Master:
Recording details: June 2018
King's College Chapel, Cambridge, United Kingdom
Produced by Simon Kiln
Engineered by Arne Akselberg & James Kiln
Release date: June 2019
Total duration: 35 minutes 8 seconds

Other recordings available for download

Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Choir, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, Vernon Handley (conductor)


‘Impeccably judged sound and balance throughout; authoritative annotations, too, from Paul Spicer and Jonathan Clinch. All told, a hugely rewarding issue, and absolutely not be missed’ (Gramophone)

‘All of the works were recorded in the warmly resonant King’s College Chapel, with Cleobury conducting the beautifully shaped choral performances … it’s altogether a fine collection of unfamiliar music’ (The Guardian)

‘This now becomes my first choice for Howells’ An English Mass and the Cello Concerto and it comes with several attractive bonuses to boot. I hope that it will help to boost appreciation of Howells’ music’ (MusicWeb International)

‘The secret to performing Howells’s music … is to catch its very English way of expressing deep feeling, which works by repression and hints rather than direct statement. Guy Johnston does this especially well in his performance of the Cello Concerto, which emerges as a substantial piece. And it’s not all repression; with the surprisingly joyful and energetic Finale he really seizes the moment’ (The Telegraph)» More

‘This celebration of Herbert Howells (1892-1983) forms Stephen Cleobury’s final recordings from King’s College Cambridge where he has been director of music for thirty-seven years. Of particular interest are the rarely performed An English Mass and the Cello Concerto, although both are previously recorded … the rhapsodic first movement [of the Concerto] is given due respect to its spacious arch-like design and the central ‘Threnody’ is sculpted with warm expressivity, its elegiac ruminations fully explored. If this dark-hued lament reaches into the core of the composer’s heartache, then the colourful Finale with its Walton-like vigour is no-less tinged with melancholic lyricism … the recorded sound is excellent’ (Classical Source)» More

An English Mass was written for Harold Darke and the St Michael Singers in 1955. Darke (1888–1976) was a leading organist and choirmaster of his time who was organist of St Michael’s, Cornhill, London, for fifty years from 1916. He founded the St Michael Singers with whom he became a leading proponent in the revival of English seventeenth-century polyphonic music as well as championing such composers as Parry and Vaughan Williams. The title refers to the use (apart from the Kyrie) of English words for the setting of the Mass, as well as to the sequence of movements reflecting the Anglican Communion service with the Gloria placed last. Although Howells scored it for chorus, organ and strings, he also suggested optional instrumental additions of flute, oboe, timpani and harp.

The vocal scoring is particularly effective with solo voices, semi-chorus and tutti all being used to create a variety of textures and colours both between and within movements. Darke and Howells shared an enthusiasm for seventeenth-century music; throughout his life Howells felt that he ‘somehow belonged to the Tudor period’ and his rapport with the music of that time is particularly evident in this work although transmuted into Howells’s own characteristic voice. Throughout, Howells creates vivid musical images to correspond with the text and compared to Hymnus where the mood is brooding and questioning, the music of the Mass is rock sure in its faith.

The Kyrie commences pianissimo in spare two-part writing and pained semitone clashes whose discomfort is quelled by the reassuring peace of the voices entering in imitation. In richer harmonic fields the opening idea is repeated and varied to culminate in a sonorous statement, before the chorus lines fall away to silence.

After the solo bass’s declaration of faith the orchestra and chorus thunder in with their response at the opening of the Creed. This is the longest section of the Mass, and its various parts are prefaced by brief orchestral links which create the ambience for the words that follow. One of the most striking musical images occurs at the words ‘And was crucified also for us’, where the texture is pared down to a semi-chorus and a solo cello has a writhing phrase as an apt reflection of the agony of the Cross. The final section, beginning with a ravishing melody for a solo soprano at ‘And I look for the resurrection of the dead’, has the character of a coda to the movement and builds to a thrilling D major ‘Amen’ of affirmation.

By contrast, the brief ‘Sursum corda’ is a still moment of repose; a dialogue between the chant of the solo bass and the chorale-like response of the unaccompanied semi-chorus. It merges attacca into the short Sanctus which begins with a mystical melodic phrase on the oboe. In music of refined beauty the smooth, long-breathed vocal lines slowly rise to two elated climaxes exhorting the ‘Lord God of hosts’. (Particularly effective is the moment when the orchestra cuts out to emphasize the word ‘glory’.) The movement ends with a hushed sotto voce echo of praise.

The Benedictus is marked by sinewy melodies as heard in the flute solo which frames the movement. A duet for soprano and alto soloists is offset against the semi-chorus and there is a glorious change of key at the entry of the full choir at the word ‘Hosanna’. The movement is linked to the Agnus Dei which is centred around a phrase of heart-rending sadness heard in two-part counterpoint setting the words ‘O Lamb of God’. Its threefold supplication exploits several textures including solo quartet for the first time, and ends on a plea for peace.

Much of the Gloria is another of Howells’s ecstatic outbursts of praise. It opens dramatically and reaches a huge outburst on the orchestra before the tempo, and texture, change for a more reflective section at ‘O Lord, the only-begotten Son, Jesu Christ’. As the tempo quickens again, the music drives to a climax with memorable ‘word painting’ at ‘have mercy upon us’. At the end melting solos for soprano and tenor lead quietly to a hushed ‘Amen’.

from notes by Andrew Burn © 1991

Other albums featuring this work

Howells: Hymnus Paradisi & An English Mass
Waiting for content to load...
Waiting for content to load...