Spirit, Strength and Sorrow

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COMPOSERS: Casciolini,Firsova,Kõrvits,Martin,Scarlatti
ALBUM TITLE: Spirit, Strength and Sorrow
WORKS: Stabat Mater settings by Firsova, Kõrvits, Casciolini, Martin, Scarlatti
PERFORMER: The Sixteen/Harry Christophers


There are 20 terse, three-line stanzas in the original Stabat Mater Dolorosa, the great medieval poem depicting the suffering of Mary witnessing Christ’s crucifixion. Alissa Firsova sets seven of them, her tart harmonic sidesteps softened by the prevalent tonality of the idiom and its sweetly reassuring lyricism. Tõnu Kõrvits writes melismatic strands into his Stabat setting, with swirling vocalise and knots of cluster material creating an eerier feeling.

Of the three contemporary works featured, Matthew Martin’s is technically the most ambitious, a ‘Passiontide Triptych’ layering Latin and English texts. There are stylistic interleavings too, sonorous plainsong fragments crosscut by more urgent, exclamatory material, at times approaching Sprechgesang. It’s an absorbing, highly accomplished piece of vocal writing, tailor-made to stretch a choir of The Sixteen’s ability.

Programmed with the new commissions are two Stabat Maters from an earlier period. Claudio Casciolini’s is in falsobordone format, with verses alternating between plainsong and polyphony. For sinuous beauty, though, Domenico Scarlatti’s gorgeous ten-part setting takes some beating, deliciously accompanied here by theorbo, harp and organ. The ardent fioritura outburst for solo tenor at ‘Inflammatus et accensus’ and the giddy complexities of the fugal peroration are just two highlights in the piece’s richly eventful 20 minutes.


Terry Blain