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Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Stabat Mater dolorosa - Music for Passiontide

Stabat Mater dolorosa - Music for Passiontide - Choir of Clare College, Cambridge - Graham Ross - HMU 907616
Stabat Mater dolorosa - Music for Passiontide: Choir of Clare College, Cambridge, Graham Ross: Hamonia Mundi
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Apr 15 2014
Star rating: 5.0

Sequence of plainchant and polyphony for Passiontide spanning the 16th to 21st centuries

Graham Ross and the choir of Clare College, Cambridge have followed up their Advent disc with a Passiontide one on Harmonia Mundi. Stabat Mater dolorosa is a sequence of Passiontide music linked by plainchant, the chant all being taken from the Stabat Mater. The result is a highly satisfying whole, with motets and anthems stretching from the 16th to the 21st centuries with music by Victoria, Lassus, Tallis, Stainer, Gesualdo, Graham Ross, John Sanders, Lotti, Bach, Byrd, Bruckner and Durufle.

The choir numbers 27, with women singing soprano and alto. Founded in 1971, the choir leads choral services three times a week in Clare College Chapel in Cambridge.

The choir sings the verses of the plainchant Stabat Mater, opening the disc with the first two and then interleaving the motets with a few verses at a time in a very satisfying way. The full choir sings the chant in an admirably poised and flexible manner, precise yet expressive.


The first motet is Tomas Luis de Victoria's O vos omnes, one of his Tenebrae Responsories. The choir makes a big sound but they blend admirably and combine a sense of line with control and intense passion.  Orlandus Lassus's Tristis et anima mea receives a similarly large scale performance, yet also is rather poised and again with a combination of intensity and control. Thomas Tallis's In ieiunio et fletu is given a lovely rich texture with the choir bringing great poise to the Lassus-like chromatic harmony at the opening.

John Stainer's God so loved the world, setting words from St John's Gospel, comes from his Crucifiction. It is simpler, but no less effective in the beautifully formed performance which combines a warm vocal quality with good attention to the words.

Another Tenebrae Respons, this time by Carlo Gesualdo. Caligaverunt oculi mei is finely done but I have to confess that I would prefer smaller forces, with an edgier less cushioned sound quality. That said, the motet is still astonishing.

Graham Ross's own setting of verses from the Stabat Mater, Ut tecum lugeam was written for the 2010 Edington Festival of Music within the Liturgy. It is a quietly intense work with some delicious close harmonies and a finely austere approach to the text. John Sanders was director of music at Gloucester Cathedral from 1967 to 1994. In 1984, when the revised liturgy for Good Friday was introduced, he composed The Reproaches setting the Good Friday Reproaches. These interleave chant with chorus, to spectacularly dramatic effect. Sanders writing is tonal, but with bite, including chromatic harmonies and clusters. At times the writing reminded me of John Tavener in such works as Annunciation which put massive forces in opposition to smaller ones.

Antonio Lotti's Crucifixus a 8 is probably one of the best known pieces on the disc, here rendered with poise, control and some fabulous suspensions. The chorale Er nam alles in acht from Bach's St. John Passion is rendered with care, attention and affection. Similar virtues apply to Byrd's Ave Verum (another of the well known pieces on the disc). Both are rendered with intensity as well as beauty of tone. Moving to the first setting of Salvator Mundi (the antiphon for Matins on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross) by Byrd's contemporary Thomas Tallis, the choir sings with a lovely vigorous up-front sound whilst keeping the sense of line.

Anton Bruckner's Christus Factus est is one of his most intense motets and it is difficult to bring off. Here Graham Ross and the choir have a good feel for the Brucknerian structure with its shifting tectonic plates of harmony and a really extended dynamic range.

Byrd's double motet Ne irascaris Domine and Civitas Sancti uses text from Isaiah, a lament for the fate of the city of Jerusalem that would would have clear political connotations to Byrd's Roman Catholic co-religionists. Graham Ross encourages the choir to deliver a rich, smooth sound and his quite gentle tempo lets the music unfold. I could imagine a more vigorously up-tempo performance, but Ross's approach lets the music speak for itself.

Ross's own Precor te, Domine takes its text from the Book of Hours, focussing on Christ's passion. His writing here has a harder edge to it, bringing an intense quality to the text. The performance from the choir is exemplary, bringing intensity to the highly dramatic writing.

With Maurice Durufle's Ubi Caritas we combine chant with 20th century harmony, as Durufle based his motet on the plainchant melody associated with the text (the Antiphon during the Washing of the Feet and Vespers on Maundy Thursday). The motet makes a beautiful finish to the disc, the performance exemplifying the many virtues that Ross and the choir bring to the music.


The performances on this disc are very much choral performances, but the precision and style that the young singers bring to the music means that many of the tracks on the disc are comparable with performances by smaller vocal ensembles.

The virtue of this programme is the way the texts can be read as a satisfying sequence in complement to the music. Full texts and translations are provided along with an article on the music by Graham Ross.

Ross draws fine performances from his young singers, who seem entirely at home in the wide variety of repertoire here. The the disc focusses on Passiontide, these highly satisfying performances warrant playing at any time of the year.


Plainchant - Stabat Mater
Tomas Luis de Victoria (1548 - 1611) - O vos omnes [4:18]
Orlande de Lassus (1532 - 1594) - Tristis et anima mea {3:59]
Thomas Talls (1508 - 1585) - In ieunio et fletu [4:05]
John Stainer (1840 - 1891) - God so loved the world [3:40]
Carlo Gesualdo (1566 - 1613) - Caligaverunt oculi mei [6:31]
Graham Ross (born 1985) - Ut tecum lugeam [3:01]
John Sanders (1933 - 2003) - The Reproaches [10:47]
Antonio Lotti (1667 - 1740)- Crucifixus a 8 [3:01]
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 - 1750) - Er nahm alles wohl in acht [1:08]
William Byrd (c1540 - 1623) - Ave verum corpus [4:18]
Thomas Tallis (1508 - 1585) - Salvator mundi I [2:07]
Anton Bruckner (1824 - 1896) - Christus factus est [5:03]
William Byrd (c1540 - 1623) - Ne irascaris/Civitas sancti tui [9:09]
Graham Ross (born 1985) - Precor te, Domine [7:53]
Maurice Durufle (1902 - 1986) - Ubi caritas [2:23]
Choir of Clare College, Cambridge
Graham Ross (conductor)
Recorded July 2013, All Hallows' Church, Gospel Oak, London
Harmonia Mundi HMU 907616 1Cd [75.46]

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