Stabat Mater Dolorosa
The style of singing here is intimately attuned to the time of year these pieces are intended for – that of Christ’s suffering and death – and what the words are saying. In Victoria’s ‘O vos omnes’, for instance, there’s a collective sense that the Clare College singers have fully internalised the text’s meaning. The swell of empathetic feeling on ‘sicut dolor meus’ (‘like to my sorrow’) seems experienced from within, the hushed closing chord numbed yet glowingly blended, more than just a clever dynamic gesture.
In the Lassus motet Tristis est anima mea the emotions are more externalised, the soaring, vibrato-free soprano line suggesting the kind of beauty which ineluctably brings a palpable edge of sadness with it. The choir’s men also contribute strongly: I specially enjoyed the sinuously expressive phrasing of the tenors in Byrd’s Ave verum corpus, where the basic tempo is subtly tweaked to telling effect by Graham Ross.
I’m not sure how comfortably selections such as Stainer’s primly Victorian God so loved the world, or the protracted soberness of John Sanders’s The Reproaches, sit beside these searching earlier masterpieces. It’s true, too, that the relative narrowness of the disc’s emotional spectrum means consuming it in one sitting is probably inadvisable. Dipped into selectively, though, it is full of highly sentient, technically excellent performances, and is atmospherically recorded.