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Sir John STAINER (1840-1901)
The Crucifixion (1887)
A Meditation on the Sacred Passion of the Holy Redeemer, for tenor and bass solo, SATB choir, and organ, with hymns for congregational participation (Text selected and written by Reverend J. Sparrow-Simpson, and revised by Michael Pilkington)
1. And They Came To A Place Named Gethsemane
2. The Agony
3. Processional To Calvary
4. And When They Were Come
5. The Mystery Of The Divine Humiliation
6. He Made Himself Of No Reputation
7. The Majesty Of The Divine Humiliation
8. And As Moses Lifted Up The Serpent
9. God So Loved The World
10. Litany Of The Passion
11. Jesus Said, 'Father, Forgive Them'
12. So Thou Liftest Thy Divine Petition
13. The Mystery Of The Intercession
14. And One Of The Malefactors
15. The Adoration Of The Crucified
16. When Jesus Therefore Saw His Mother
17. Is It Nothing To You?
18. The Appeal Of The Crucified
19. After This, Jesus Knowing That All Things Were Now Accomplished
20. For The Love Of Jesus
James Gilchrist (tenor)
Simon Bailey (bass)
Stephen Farr (organ)
Choir of Clare College, Cambridge/Timothy Brown
rec. Guildford Cathedral, Guildford, Surrey, England, 21-22 June 2004. DDD
NAXOS 8.557624 [66:47]

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Barry Roseís recording of The Crucifixion was one of the staples of the catalogue and his reading, with David Hughes and John Lawrenson, has proved its durability and effectiveness since it was first issued back in the late 1960s. His is the recording thatís been on my shelves though in one of those quirks the first recording I heard of the work was on 78s Ė the stentorian American partnership of Tibbett and Crooks in a set surely destined for reissue, and one that gave me a sense of the dramatic in a work easily mocked for its static piety.

The good news is that this newcomer has plenty of virtues of its own. The Choir of Clare College are a finely balanced and youthful sounding body and the two soloists make good contributions. The recording is an asset in not inflating the sound. Organist Stephen Farr chooses his registrations with care and presiding over all, conductor Timothy Brown proves to have a sure hand at building climaxes and keeping up the momentum. To be super-critical there is a degree of ambient noise in the acoustic but thatís only really noticeable on headphones and then only briefly.

One can hear Farrís sophisticated use of registrations in The Agony, where James Gilchrist is appropriately dramatic and bass Simon Bailey evinces a noble dignity, though his voice is not as purely distinctive as Gilchristís and there are times when itís not firmly centred. I admired the way Brown insists on the pianissimos in Fling Wide the Gates as indeed I do his handling of the hymn, The Mystery of the Divine Humiliation Ė where the reflective and declamatory are held in balance. The affirmatory sixth verse is sung with real fervour. Itís a measure of the success of this performance that, highlight though it is, God so loved the World is not the only peak. Similarly the Litany of the Passion emerges here as quietly moving and not as pious-absurd. Brown has ensured concision and variety by shortening some of the hymns.

The recording took place in Guildford Cathedral where, incidentally, Barry Rose recorded his own famous disc over thirty-five years ago. Full texts and notes add up to a warm recommendation to the work of a composer omitted from the old World Encyclopaedia of Recorded Music presumably on the grounds of distaste for the genre. This is the kind of disc that gives considered meticulousness to The Crucifixion and therefore deserves respect.

Jonathan Woolf

see also reviews by John Quinn and Michael Cookson


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