, June 2005
"This new recording of Stainer’s The Crucifixion from the Choir of Clare College, Cambridge under the direction of Timothy Brown is the first special CD in Naxos’s 18th birthday celebrations. These take place from May to October 2005. Each ‘CD of the Month’ for the next six months will include a limited edition bonus birthday CD with music themed around the content of the main disc. The bonus CD with this release, which is in reality a ‘sampler’, is entitled ‘English Choral Classics’. This is a compilation from the acclaimed Naxos back-catalogue and includes many performances by the St. John’s College Choir.
Born in London in 1840, John Stainer lost an eye in a childhood accident. This did not deter him from becoming a leading organist of his age and a musical educator at the University of Oxford. For years he served at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, first as a chorister and then as organist. Contemporaries said he raised the Cathedral’s standard of music to new heights of excellence, not least by enlarging the choir staff. In addition to his famous oratorio, he wrote over 230 services for St. Paul’s Cathedral as well as other oratorios, anthems, hymns and cantatas. According to musicologist Sir George Grove, "amongst his most successful and artistic pieces of church music must be named the well-known ‘Sevenfold Amen’."
When Stainer conceived the novel idea of writing a work for ‘Passion Week’ that was well within the amateur capabilities of a typical small town or village choir he could never have dreamt that The Crucifixion would become one of the most popular devotional choral works in the history of Anglican choral music. Although conceived on a different level, The Crucifixion became as admired as Handel’s Messiah and Mendelssohn’s St. Paul and Elijah. Stainer, who was knighted by Queen Victoria in 1888, is remembered as a very great Victorian.
The Crucifixion is in fact a ‘Meditation’ on the Sacred Passion of the Holy Redeemer. It is scored for tenor and bass solo, SATB choir and organ. The work is interspersed with hymns for the congregation to sing. The Crucifixion was composed in 1887 for the use of Stainer’s friend and pupil William Hodge, who was assistant sub-organist at St. Paul’s Cathedral and organist at the St Marylebone Parish Church, in London. There a performance of the work has been given every Good Friday since its first hearing in 1887. The text to The Crucifixion was selected and written by Reverend J. Sparrow-Simpson, whose father was a colleague of Stainer as Succentor and Librarian at St. Paul’s. The text has often been criticised as being rather awkward and amateurish containing a surfeit of Victorian piety. Considerable criticism over the years has not prevented The Crucifixion securing a permanent position in the English sacred choral repertoire.
For me the highlight is the ambitious number Processional To Calvary which is preceded by a splendid lengthy introduction for organ. The chorus enter with the repeated cry of the peremptory ‘Fling wide the gates’ which displays Stainer’s undoubted gifts for melody and harmony and is exceptionally well performed by the Choir of Clare College, Cambridge. Tenor James Gilchrist exudes integrity. The impressive soloists James Gilchrist and bass Simon Bailey are spirited and fully immersed in the direct and tuneful simplicity of the music. Organist Stephen Farr gives a splendid account with resounding technical security.
Good quality sound and the annotation from Nicholas Temperley is very impressive. Lovers of English choral music will relish this highly attractive release."