The Sixteen / Harry Christophers

Spirit, Strength & Sorrow

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This release by the Sixteen follows on a pair of similar ones, featuring commissions from three young composers, all setting the same religious text. This one is perhaps the most varied of the group and the one to try for thsoe intrigued by the concept: the program includes a Stabat Mater chant and a pair of Baroque examples, one of them Domenico Scarlatti's quite luxurious and stirring composition, in addition to the three contemporary works. Two of those works are informed by their composers' national backgrounds; Estonia's Tönu Körvits manages an intriguing fusion of Estonian folk tonalities with minimalistic fields, and Russian-British composer Alissa Firsova's work has the mood of Russian Orthodox church music. The work by Matthew Martin incorporates poetry in English that's external to the Stabat Mater text and also includes references to plainchant, bringing to mind the medieval polytextual motet (although the texts aren't sung simultaneously). An extremely diverse program is held together by the common text and the somber mood it enforces, and as the booklet points out, the Stabat Mater is a text with a long history but few contemporary settings later than that of Penderecki several decades ago. The Scarlatti setting is also noteworthy for drawing an unusually passionate performance out of the normally reserved Sixteen. Not a set of new masterpieces, but a fresh program that's to be commended.

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