Stanford's Stabat Mater was a huge success on its first performance in 1906 and earned the lasting admiration of Ralph Vaughan Williams and Herbert Howells. The musical style is typically eclectic: there is a lot of Verdi, quite a bit of Liszt and the odd sprinkling of Dvorak. The insert notes compare how the great choral festivals commissioned large choral works with the way the cities in which they were held tried to outdo each other in the splendour of their buildings, and there is something about the piece that reminds one of much Victorian municipal architecture. You admire the craftsmanship and scholarship, not to mention the lavishness of scale but miss the extra spark of originality that would make for a truly memorable work of art. In the closing pages, however, Stanford abandons the Verdian melodramatics and evokes the glory of heaven with a simple modal transformation of a theme first heard in the Prelude. It is a deeply touching conclusion which alone would make the piece worthwhile.
The Bible songs for voice and organ are perhaps best heard with the Hymns for choir which Stanford wrote to accompany them the following year. Stephen Varcoe is a trifle unvarying in tone and is rather recessed in the sound picture -- the effect is of listening to a series of sermons from too far back in the church. The disc closes with that old parish choir favourite the B flat Te Deum, here sounding like a new piece in the colourful orchestration which Stanford made for the coronation of Edward VII. Hickox's forces sing and play with passion and commitment, and are given a suitably sumptuous recording.