But what struck me yet again was the incomparable beauty of Tomkins' When David Heard. I sing first alto in this, and found myself, on the first run-through, almost unable to continue. David's reaction to the news of Absalom's death goes from from the heart-broken repetitions of Absalom my son, over and over, over and over, to the words every parent can recognise: would God I had died for thee. It starts simply, bleakly almost, but then becomes more insistent - and then we're back with Absalom, my son, quietly, dying into the final cadence, as if David has no more energy to express the grief that has overcome him.
As I grow older - or simply old - I find this harder and harder to sing with the detachment I was able to enjoy when I first encountered the piece in my 20s. And yet the music is ruined by gusty, emotional lines or operatic emoting - for it is the music itself that paints the words, and the music needs every ounce of concentration to let it speak. By the end of a performance I am exhausted, and yet it lasts only five minutes.
The performance I've linked to is a tad slow for my taste - just a fraction - but lets the music work. If you've never heard it, go and listen.