> STAINER Crucifixion [PS]: Classical CD Reviews- Jun2002 MusicWeb(UK)






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Sir John STAINER
The Crucifixion; Come Thou Long-Expected Jesus; I Saw the Lord; Love Divine.

Richard Lewis (tenor), Owen Brannigan (bass),
Choirs of St. Johnís College/Kingís College, Cambridge/George Guest/Stephen Cleobury
Rec 1961, 1985 ADD
DECCA - The British Music Collection - 470379-2 [74í21"]

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Stainerís The Crucifixion has survived 115 years of critical calumny and disdain and seems likely to survive for at least another 115. It has fulfilled a need as a devotional cantata for small, less experienced choirs, specifically church choirs, and has indeed had many imitators, some of them more durable than others. It is, then, its usefulness that has ensured its longevity.

To say, therefore, that The Crucifixion is poor manís Mendelssohn (and Maunderís Olivet to Calvary Ė much inferior Ė is poor manís Gounod and Percy Fletcherís Passion of Christ is poor manís Elgar) is to miss the point. Such is The Crucifixionís place in the social history of music in England that experienced choirs have taken it up and in my experience have usually enjoyed it, which brings me to this recording, which dated originally from 1961. It would be hard to find from that era better musicians than perform it here which, let it be said, they do with no hint of condescension.

Richard Lewisís lyrical tenor, beloved of many, is a genuinely moving narrator of what is for many the greatest story of all and the bass Owen Branniganís rich delivery, equally well remembered, has magnificent authority. That the choir is that of St. Johnís College Cambridge under George Guest means that this is an all-male performance, which might be frowned on in these days of gender equality. More importantly, if just as controversially, this brings a cathedral-type sound to what is basically a small parish church work. But the singing, not least of the moving unaccompanied chorus "God So Loved the World" (if Stainer had composed nothing else, he would be worth remembering) disarms criticism, though I do have reservations about the hymns. These like the chorales in a Bach Passion, are central to the structure (and Stainer, unlike Bach, even composed all five tunes) but modern usage might dictate tempi a touch faster than we have here. The organist in The Crucifixion has no easy task for he must be both a discreet accompanist and also project an orchestral-type commentary at moments of drama. Brian Runnett, later Organist of Norwich Cathedral and sadly cut off in his prime in a car accident around 1970, fulfils both functions to perfection and indeed provides some striking moments, especially in "Fling Wide the Gates".

A well filled CD is completed by three more of Stainerís sacred pieces: his best known (and sometimes dramatic) anthem I Saw the Lord and two hymns Come Thou is Cross of Jesus from The Crucifixion to different words (and is a smidgen faster) while Love Divine, sung by St. Johnís rivals, just up the road at Kingís, under Stephen Cleobury is a much later recording dating from 1985.
Philip L Scowcroft

see also review by Jonathon Woolf

 


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