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Stainer's Crucifixion


jonadkins
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I realise that the topic title alone might put some people off responding, but having just played for one "performance" of this, I was wondering whether anyone on the board has had to play it, (or will play it on Good Friday).

 

No-one could ever argue that it is the greatest music ever written, but in spite of this I am curious to know if people feel it is worth doing, if not every year?

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I do a performance every year, on Good Friday, with the same choir. The venue changes around rural churches in the diocese who are usually very glad to have a high quality musical devotion come to them on Good Friday afternoon. We use top-quality soloists. Afterwards a few of us adjourn for a fish supper.

 

I realise I am in a minority here, but I find the Stainer extremely well written, apart from the odd moment. It tells the story without leaving too much out, and does so in under an hour with some sublimely beautiful musical moments and (I think) a very moving ending.

 

I'd far rather hear it done superbly than an indifferent performance of St Matthew or St John passion, and I don't suppose I'm in a minority with that one.

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I do a performance every year, on Good Friday, with the same choir. The venue changes around rural churches in the diocese who are usually very glad to have a high quality musical devotion come to them on Good Friday afternoon. We use top-quality soloists. Afterwards a few of us adjourn for a fish supper.

 

I realise I am in a minority here, but I find the Stainer extremely well written, apart from the odd moment. It tells the story without leaving too much out, and does so in under an hour with some sublimely beautiful musical moments and (I think) a very moving ending.

 

I'd far rather hear it done superbly than an indifferent performance of St Matthew or St John passion, and I don't suppose I'm in a minority with that one.

 

Very well put. Couldn't agree more.

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Well I like it, am usually moved by it and I think most of the really dreadful moments are down to the words rather than the music (eg rhyming "agony sore...more and more", although Stainer must take the rap for the way that "here in abasement" always comes out). Having said that, I only get it a couple of times a decade - I'd tire of doing it annually.

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I had never really come across the Crucifixion until I got involved with it around 15 years ago, playing it one year, then conducting it the next.

 

I went into the project thinking that I would snigger my way through the Victoriana, but came out the other side with a considerable respect for the craftsmanship, sensitivity, and sheer power of the music to move. It does, though, require a really good performance and soloists to make it work convincingly.

 

m

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I seem to have (re-)established a tradition of a "Come and Sing" performance every Palm Sunday. Many of the same singers sing every year so it usually goes well (over 80 this year).

 

I think as a musical "Meditation on the Sacred Passion of the Holy Redeemer" it is very effective and moving. However I wouldn't give a "performance" as a concert work - I don't think it stands up to that.

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I seem to have (re-)established a tradition of a "Come and Sing" performance every Palm Sunday. Many of the same singers sing every year so it usually goes well (over 80 this year).

 

I think as a musical "Meditation on the Sacred Passion of the Holy Redeemer" it is very effective and moving. However I wouldn't give a "performance" as a concert work - I don't think it stands up to that.

At the risk of being the lone voice in the wilderness I'd like to say that he wrote much better music than his Crucifixion and that, like Stephen, I would say it should only be heard in a religious/devotional setting. God So Loved The World is the best bit and stands up very well on its own.

 

I'm sure some of you know of the old graffiti on the wall of the Gents in the Oxford Music Faculty:

 

Down with C19 Church Music!

 

to which had been added:

 

What about Stainer’s Crucifixion?

 

to which was added:

 

Bloody good idea.

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I was brought up on this work and I knew someone who knew the author of the words. As a boy I used to have to sing it in the local hospital chapel on Palm Sunday afternoon and in church on Good Friday evening. About 35 years ago I found myself conducting it at St Mary's Brighton on Passion Sunday, singing in the chorus at St Anne's Brighton on Palm Sunday and playing it on Good Friday in Lewes.

 

I can take most of the music, up to a point - if you exclude that horrendously awful tenor/bass duet which seems to be a poor imitation of what Gilbert and Sullivan did infinitely better. What I cannot take are the words which try to turn the Passion into something pathetic and sentimental. I think it was Eric Routley, giving a talk somewhere who said that Passion should be linked to Passive (in the passion narratives, which take up a substantial portion of the Gospel texts, Jesus has things done to him instead of him doing things to/for other people) and not to Pathos. You may or may not agree with Eric Routley (a Lancing College educated URC Minister) but I think he had a point. "O mysterious condescending".......... I find quite offensive, actually.

 

Malcolm

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I realise that the topic title alone might put some people off responding, but having just played for one "performance" of this, I was wondering whether anyone on the board has had to play it, (or will play it on Good Friday).

 

No-one could ever argue that it is the greatest music ever written, but in spite of this I am curious to know if people feel it is worth doing, if not every year?

 

 

I pretty much agree with all the positive comments here.......again, one or two strange moments don't otherwise distract from what is a well-written work which is as pleasing for the performers as it is for the listeners (both high and low-brow).

 

I used to sing it as a boy every Good Friday, but really came to appreciate it through the Barry Rose Guildford recording which is still the best for atmosphere in my mind.

 

finally aren't those hymn tunes to die for...Ooops - unfortunate turn of phrase!

 

Richard

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Well I like it, am usually moved by it and I think most of the really dreadful moments are down to the words rather than the music...

I agree. In addition to 'Here in a basement', I also find 'He bears His load on the sorrowful road, and bends 'neath the burden low' a little too much to swallow too.

 

However, musically, I think it very well-crafted, and parts of it have the ability to move me very much. I wonder why there has been so much snobbery against it over the years. Passing fashions, I guess.

 

I grew up with a splendid LP of an abridged version of it sung by the choir of Guildford Cathedral, under Barry Rose. Has anybody else got any favourite recordings (if you dare admit to owning recordings of The Crucifixion!)?

 

On the other hand, as for Olivet To Calvary... :rolleyes:

 

EDIT: I see OmegaConsort has beaten me to it. I blame it on my slow laptop! :D

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I agree. In addition to 'Here in a basement', I also find 'He bears His load on the sorrowful road, and bends 'neath the burden low' a little too much to swallow too.

 

However, musically, I think it very well-crafted, and parts of it have the ability to move me very much. I wonder why there has been so much snobbery against it over the years. Passing fashions, I guess.

 

I grew up with a splendid LP of an abridged version of it sung by the choir of Guildford Cathedral, under Barry Rose. Has anybody else got any favourite recordings (if you dare admit to owning recordings of The Crucifixion!)?

 

On the other hand, as for Olivet To Calvary... :rolleyes:

 

EDIT: I see OmegaConsort has beaten me to it. I blame it on my slow laptop! :D

 

 

Yep - got in quickly with my super-fast PC...

There is an orchestrated recording so I'm told - never heard it, but it was on the old defunct conifer label I think. Also, didnt Stanley Vann record it too? There is also a St Pauls with john scott which I have; interesting but oh so slow....i also have an ancient recording of me singing in a performance, but the least said about that one, the better!

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I grew up with a splendid LP of an abridged version of it sung by the choir of Guildford Cathedral, under Barry Rose. Has anybody else got any favourite recordings (if you dare admit to owning recordings of The Crucifixion!)?

 

Somewhere I have a Peterborough Cathedral recording with dear old Jim Griffett doing the tenor part and (I think) Michael George on the bass. I am aware that Benjamin Luxon does a good baritone part.

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I have Guildford Cathedral's and St John's Cambridge's recordings. I marginally prefer the former - has anyone noticed the way that it sounds as if the trebles sang "Sorrerful Road"?

 

A great piece and one which has been with me all my life ever since my late father sang the tenor solos at a local performance in about 1963.

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I have the Naxos issue of Clare College (cond Timothy Brown, org Stephen Farr, ten James Gilchrist, recorded in Guildford Cathedral) - review.

As for the words; well, my father (a theologian) preferred not to listen to Bach's Passions because the words of the arias were too pietistic...

 

Paul

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As for the words; well, my father (a theologian) preferred not to listen to Bach's Passions because the words of the arias were too pietistic...

Maybe someone could make a version of the Stainer in German? Or, taking a leaf out of Mel Gibson's book, Aramaic?

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There is an orchestrated recording so I'm told - never heard it, but it was on the old defunct conifer label I think.

I have a version newly-orchestrated by Barry Rose on the Lammas label (2003).

Also, didnt Stanley Vann record it too?

Yes - this is the Peterborough Cathedral recording mentioned by 'Heckelphone' which is playing in the background as I write this: a testament to the skill of the late Stanley Vann. I also have the re-mastered St John's/Guest recording. It is performed in my establishment on Good Friday evening, an occasion which is always well-attended.

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On the other hand, as for Olivet To Calvary... :rolleyes:

Ah, memories! My village church choir in the early 1960s used to alternate Crucifixion and Olivet. I wonder how many - if, indeed, any at all - still do the latter? And as if that weren't bad enough, we occasionally gave both pieces a rest and did Maunder's Penitence, Pardon & Peace instead. Anybody remember that?

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I do rather like the Crucifixion. It wouldn't perhaps hit my desert island discs, but it is a sensitive and thoughtful meditation on the Passion (notwithstanding some of the points raised above). Musically it isn't on a par with many other things, but in that sense it probably appeals more to the masses and to your average parish congregation.

 

Not having an evening service on Sunday, I sought out a performance of it to attend. I try not to be a musical 'snob' but I have to say I didn't think it was performed particularly well. The ensemble seemed poor, we had an overwhelming number of sopranos and altos and so the harmony wasn't as rich as it could have been, and the singing was sometimes a little flat ('God so loved the world' dropped at least a tone). Probably the highlight was the solo tenor who was absolutely terrific, particularly in the 'King ever glorious' recitative, and he gave it absolutely everything for the final words of that and I sensed real emotion there. The bass was good, although his diction was a little odd.

 

I got the impression that this might have been an annual event when many extra singers were added from beyond the normal choir and that they just picked it up on the Sunday afternoon. This is fine, if the singers are competent and the outcome good, but with a work like this which doesn't make huge technical demands there is a real danger that it can be performed badly. Unfortunately, being a work I know well, I was left rueing some of the inadequacies mentioned because they were obvious to me and therefore spoiled it somewhat. However, done well, it can be a very moving experience, although I find the hymns a real struggle as they rise so high (two to F, one to F#, although I freely admit I am far from a great singer). Unfortunately, it is not possible to transpose them down as the keys follow in sequence with the music that is around them.

 

I see mention of Maunder's 'Olivet to Calvary', which I heard my home church choir do several years ago, and is twinned with the Crucifixion on the Barry Rose recording which I have and I agree is excellent (even if not a complete recording). While I wouldn't deny that some of it is verging on Victorian twaddle which has had some rather unkind things written about it, I have to say that I come back again and again to the final chorus 'Droop sacred head' which I find an incredibly moving and powerful ending. If I'm feeling uninspired, it is one of those pieces which I do come back to for inspiration because its words and music do have genuine feeling and power. I would probably go to hear it again just for that.

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I do rather like the Crucifixion. It wouldn't perhaps hit my desert island discs, but it is a sensitive and thoughtful meditation on the Passion (notwithstanding some of the points raised above). Musically it isn't on a par with many other things, but in that sense it probably appeals more to the masses and to your average parish congregation.

 

Not having an evening service on Sunday, I sought out a performance of it to attend. I try not to be a musical 'snob' but I have to say I didn't think it was performed particularly well. The ensemble seemed poor, we had an overwhelming number of sopranos and altos and so the harmony wasn't as rich as it could have been, and the singing was sometimes a little flat ('God so loved the world' dropped at least a tone). Probably the highlight was the solo tenor who was absolutely terrific, particularly in the 'King ever glorious' recitative, and he gave it absolutely everything for the final words of that and I sensed real emotion there. The bass was good, although his diction was a little odd.

 

I got the impression that this might have been an annual event when many extra singers were added from beyond the normal choir and that they just picked it up on the Sunday afternoon. This is fine, if the singers are competent and the outcome good, but with a work like this which doesn't make huge technical demands there is a real danger that it can be performed badly. Unfortunately, being a work I know well, I was left rueing some of the inadequacies mentioned because they were obvious to me and therefore spoiled it somewhat. However, done well, it can be a very moving experience, although I find the hymns a real struggle as they rise so high (two to F, one to F#, although I freely admit I am far from a great singer). Unfortunately, it is not possible to transpose them down as the keys follow in sequence with the music that is around them.

 

I see mention of Maunder's 'Olivet to Calvary', which I heard my home church choir do several years ago, and is twinned with the Crucifixion on the Barry Rose recording which I have and I agree is excellent (even if not a complete recording). While I wouldn't deny that some of it is verging on Victorian twaddle which has had some rather unkind things written about it, I have to say that I come back again and again to the final chorus 'Droop sacred head' which I find an incredibly moving and powerful ending. If I'm feeling uninspired, it is one of those pieces which I do come back to for inspiration because its words and music do have genuine feeling and power. I would probably go to hear it again just for that.

 

Isn't it amazing what Stanley Vann and Barry Rose did for Stainer's Crucifixion and also Rose for Olivet to Calvary? I had never heard 'Olivet' until I bought a record of it on a whim years ago. Yes, there is a lot of 'Olivet' that perhaps should not have been written, but when I eventually chanced upon a score of the Maunder it was a lesson in what a top choirtmaster can do with second rate music. Having said that, I agree that the Rose recording of Olivet has some stunning emotional moments as does his Stainer. There is a church two hours from where I live that does the Stainer every Good Friday (and with a top choir) and the building is filled. . . and that's a four figure size congregation.

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Thanks for the responses - I agree that it is worth doing provided you treat it as good music, notwithstanding some of the unintentionally comic moments already mentioned. Certainly as accompanist, it does not pay to be too blase about it!

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