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Missa Wellensis

author of text
Ordinary of the Mass

When Matthew Owens proposed that Tavener might consider setting the Latin Mass for Wells Cathedral Choir, the composer was so inspired that he almost completed the work before it had been contracted. Missa Wellensis stands among the longest and most substantial of Tavener’s final works. The piece, created in the early months of 2013 as a tribute to the Spanish Renaissance composer Tomás Luis de Victoria, is scored for double choir and calls for the subdivision of each voice part. Within its 20-minute span Tavener evokes the infinity of creation, sounded and re-sounded in great chordal blocks hewn from simple harmonic material.

The Kyrie’s opening plea for mercy is shared by the two choirs, the first echoed by the second in a canon at the unison launched at a half bar’s distance. Its initial treble line and prevailing choral sonorities call to mind the Kyrie of Bruckner’s Second Mass. The central Christe, more introspective than the movement’s outlying Kyries, continues the process of canonic repetition, albeit subtly varied in structure. Tavener recalls the music of the opening Kyrie but stops short of a full repetition, casting sound into silence and liberating his ‘monumental, majestic’ Gloria from the void. Choirs one and two once more share a unison canon, stated either at the distance of a half or full bar. The consequent blurring of individual parts and creation of a single body of sound appear to arise from what the Romanian historian of religion Mircea Eliade describes as “indefinitely recoverable, indefinitely repeatable” sacred time, “[…] a sort of eternal mythical present that is periodically reintegrated by means of rites.”

Missa Wellensis was written for one of the oldest of all Christian rites, that of Eucharist. It was first heard at Wells Cathedral on 18 May 2014, with the Creed spoken by the congregation. Tavener telescopes his setting of the Sanctus, Hosanna and Benedictus into a single movement of concentrated energy, reserving the work’s most exuberant rhythmic writing for the Sanctus, recycling the music of the Kyrie to carry the two Hosannas, and addressing the mystery of the Benedictus with simple harmonies made complex by the use of canon. The Agnus Dei opens with a twelve-note melody shared between the unison trebles and tenors of both choirs; it concludes with a Quotation from O vos omnes, one of Victoria’s Tenebrae Responsories, stated in choir one and echoed in unison by choir two at the distance of one full bar. The purity of Victoria’s polyphony, the very sounding of the composing priest’s profound personal faith, complements and completes Tavener’s Mass for Wells.

from notes by Andrew Stewart © 2016


Tavener: Missa Wellensis & other sacred music
Studio Master: SIGCD442Download onlyStudio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available


Movement 1: Kyrie
Track 1 on SIGCD442 [6'06] Download only
Movement 2: Gloria
Track 2 on SIGCD442 [5'42] Download only
Movement 3: Sanctus and Benedictus
Track 3 on SIGCD442 [3'01] Download only
Movement 4: Agnus Dei
Track 4 on SIGCD442 [2'15] Download only

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