“Spirit, Strength, & Sorrow” = Setting of the Stabat Mater by ALISSA FIRSOVA, TONU KORVITS, CLAUDIO CASCIOLINI, MATTHEW MARTIN, DOMENICO SCARLATTI – The Sixteen/ Harry Christophers – Coro

“Spirit, Strength, & Sorrow” = Setting of the Stabat Mater by ALISSA FIRSOVA, TONU KORVITS, CLAUDIO CASCIOLINI, MATTHEW MARTIN, DOMENICO SCARLATTI – The Sixteen/ Harry Christophers – Coro COR16127, 68:45 [Distr. by Allegro] *****:

Whether or not Jacopone da Todi, the 13th century Franciscan lay brother who may or may not have been totally with it (some of his antics remind one of the later Russian “fools for Christ”, or people who acted looney in order to be more able to fully pursue spiritual life apart from the constrictions of acceptable social behavior) wrote the difficult and lengthy Stabat Mater, a poem of Mary at the foot of the cross, is immaterial in light of its subsequent history. And though we might be willing to forgive the Council of Trent for omitting it as a liturgical entity in its “purge” of other popular texts, composers throughout the ages have manifestly embraced it even when its disappearance from active liturgical life in the Roman Catholic Church—aside from a few occasional services outside the main liturgical structure—would seem to have had the opposite effect. Indeed, there are few more powerful settings of religiosity in the western Christian world.

Christophers has been working with the Genesis Foundation in order to continue the great tradition of Gregorian chant and sacred polyphony by commissioning composers to write music that is singable for contemporary worshippers yet also part of the continuance. Here we have three additions to the repertory, two rather similar in sound world, and one quite forcefully dramatic, all premieres.

Alissa Firsova, Moscow-born and largely London-trained, has 23 opus numbers to her credit so far, and only 28 years old, having won the BBC/Guardian/Proms Young Composer Competition with her piano piece “Les Pavots” at only 15! She is also an up and coming pianist and conductor. Her Slavic Orthodox roots serve her well with distinct hints of the harmonies of Arvo Part, and taking a view of the text that is far more introspective than actively emotional. Closely related is Estonian Tonu Korvits, who uses similar harmonies but in a more aligned leitmotiv manner that suggests an active appreciation of the text. Finally, Brit Matthew Martin takes the overtly dramatic aspects of the text and mixes in a modern translation into English as well, dividing it into a tripartite form of really dramatic extremes.

The Scarlatti is a fine performance of a much-known work, while the rare appearance of the mid-18th century piece by Claudio Casciolini is an intentional throwback to an even earlier time, and heartily welcome. St. Augustine’s Church in Kilburn, London, provides the hospitable and soothing acoustics for this recording.

—Steven Ritter

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