Believers and non-believers alike can exalt in the music of Holy Week. Whether it be an affirmation of faith, or simply an uplifting experience for an agnostic sceptic, the repertoire packs an emotional punch unlike any other musical canon in the calendar of Christian Churches. And that includes Christmas. Anyone who claims to be left unmoved is lying. Or, they’re Stalin.

That is because the period from Palm Sunday to Easter Day spans a tumult of turbulent emotions; celebration, foreboding, betrayal, torture, death, desolation, then the ultimate triumph of resurrection. This is a wide spectrum palette from which composers have consistently drawn, from the Middle Ages until today, painting Holy Week in the brightest and most poignant of musical colours.

Despite an attempt by the Second Vatican Council – Constitution on the Liturgy – to castrate much of the beauty of traditional Roman Catholic liturgical form and consign long-loved Latin musical heritage to the dustbin of history, more has survived in secular performance than might have been reasonably hoped for.

So, much early Latin repertoire for Holy Week is still heard today. Other churches dodged the VAT 2 bullet. Settings of the Passion story are an important part of Lutheran and Anglican traditions, as well as being performed in concert settings.

Lockdown Holy Week has afforded this writer the luxury of roaming far and wide, stumbling across new online performance jewels aplenty to share. There follows the tip of a glorious iceberg.

First up is an online live performance of Handel’s Messiah from Sydney Opera House. Many may associate Messiah with Christmas. Alright, alright, you quibble if you want to. This writer’s not for quibbling. Fifty per cent of it is to do with Holy Week, Easter and the consequences – blessing, honour, glory and power.

This performance is giddyingly good, in the hands of musical director, Brett Weymark. The 600 strong Sydney Philharmonia Choirs fill the Sydney Opera House sound box with crystal clarity and Maestro Weymark draws fresh meaning out of every chorus, with careful attention to dynamics and articulation. He sets a cracking pace, tempered with sensuous rubato passages when the text demands reflection. The performance is beautifully produced in high definition sound and vision.

Vivaldi’s Stabat mater, performed by counter tenor, James Bowman and the Academy of Ancient Music under the baton of the estimable Christopher Hogwood, is sublime.

Stabat mater is a Marian hymn depicting the mother of Christ standing, weeping, at the foot of the Cross. The text surprises, as the narrator abandons the role of observer, and turns to address Mary directly. The focus is on liturgical music for the triduum, the three-day period of intense devotion between Maundy Thursday and Holy Saturday; two settings of the famous Miserere text and two different sets of Tenebrae responsories, then the Lamentations of Jeremiah the prophet.

These are morning offices, performed on the evening of the preceding day. The work captures the dramatic symbolism of sequentially extinguished candles and the strepitus, a noisy outburst, heavy with allegorical meanings. The performance concludes with Passion settings, from the Gospel of St Matthew, and three more modern ones, including one from St John.

Strong advice. Listen to From Spain to Eternity – the sacred polyphony of El Greco’s Toledo – in total lockdown. Not even a six-foot stick should be brought into proximity play. This is searing music from 16th century Spanish composer Alonso Lobo. You want to be alone.

The recording is a hybrid version by Tommaso Bai and Gregorio Allegri, as preserved by a papal choirmaster in the 19th century. The augmented score has travelled far from Lobo’s quill. Not only is this a glistening performance, with bright, unwavering high Cs and many famous ornamentations, it is also an exploration of the surprisingly ornate later stages of this long tradition. Bonus. There are also tracks of settings by Francesco Scarlatti and Leonardo Leo.

“Looking for something a bit more modern, guv? I keep something for special customers under the counter. Know what I mean?” That would be John Adams’ The Gospel of the Other Mary. “Mary Magdalene, guv. Not the proper one. Bit of a goer. Spent her last 30 years in a cave round the back of the Mont San Victoire in Provence. That bloke Cezanne was a huge fan. She’s been a bit of an internet influencer ever since Dan Brown …….” (‘Nuff, already! It’s Holy Week. ed.)

Anyway, here is a recording by the Los Angeles Philharmonic led by Gustavo Dudamel.

John Adams has skilfully synthesised 20th-century styles in this Passion oratorio, a collaboration with director and librettist, the effulgent Peter Sellars. Dudamel leads a strong cast through impassioned modern texts that reframe the Gospel story, while a countertenor trio functions as a calmly shimmering Evangelist. Adams’s filmic sense is particularly vivid in his depiction of Golgotha. The atmosphere is wonderfully captured by Dudamel. This work was new to me and will become a seasonal staple.

Arvo Pärt’s Passio up next. I admire the Estonian composer’s quiet introspection. This recording by Mogens Dhall Kammerkor (choir) of Copenhagen nails the Good Friday bleakness. Time stands still.  Someone once told me Pärt was the Ikea of modern church music – all simplicity and functionality. Bollocks! To start with, he’s not Swedish. And, his spare tone is firmly rooted in the Orthodox church tradition of his homeland, which he brings to the present day.

This short resumé is not comprehensive. But, who can resist this version of the timeless King’s Easter Service – from King’s College, Cambridge? Conducted by the late, great Stephen Cleobury, this is the summit of the Anglican church music tradition.

And for those who want to peep behind the curtain and learn how that unique Anglican chorister sound is crafted, look no further than this amazing, rare,1958 black and white BBC footage

It features the legendary organist and choirmaster George Thalben-Ball, conducting a rehearsal at London’s Temple Church.

You will witness a distillation of the craft that goes into the music that will lift spirits across the planet at this difficult Eastertide.

And how better to enter upon Easter Day than with this unusually reflective rendering of This Joyful Eastertide. Normally a helter-skelter celebration, in the thoughtful hands of music director Gerre Hancock and the voices of 5th Avenue, New York, St Thomas Church choir, this uplifting carol, recorded in 2001, is taken at an unusual adagio tempo, perhaps more in keeping with the current mood. Happy Easter!