Stainer The Crucifixion
Victorian values being nowadays respected more highly than they were in my youth, Stainer's Crucifixion may well find appreciative listeners among musicians of the very type who used then to dissociate themselves from it most decisively. To some extent, the present recording and the earlier one conducted by Richard Hickox (EMI) show this to be so. Here, in both performances, is a high degree of musical refinement, in the phrasing and shading of the choral work, registration of the organ part, and so forth. And the piece has certainly stood the test of time in that, over 100 years after it was first given in the St Marylebone Parish Church in 1887, it remains one of the most frequently performed of all choral works in England, retaining and from time to time renewing its place in the record catalogues. Personally I am no nearer to a liking for it than I was, let's say, 40 years ago. To call it Mendelssohnian, as they used to do then by way of criticism, belittles the infinite inventiveness of Mendelssohn's melodic gift: Stainer's melodies are either over-obvious or wanting in character, and the harmonic idiom, so essentially easy-going and comfortable, is ill-fitted to suit its chosen subject-matter.
Still, there is nothing crude or banal about the performance. Everything is sensitively handled, and indeed if there is any cause for complaint it is that the treatment is perhaps musically over-reverent. Some of the speeds are very slow: ''God so loved the world'' for example is marked andante ma non lento, but if this is St Paul's andante their lento must be a marvel of its kind. The cathedral's acoustics may excuse or explain some of this, though Hickox's speeds are very similar (where the playing-length is shorter it is usually because he has omitted a verse or two of the hymns, and he will get no complaints from me about that). Maldwyn Davies has a sweeter tone than Tear (with Hickox), and Wilson-Johnson is firmer and more interestingly resonant than Luxon. St Paul's Choir sings admirably and benefits from having boy trebles; Hickox's choir on the other hand is placed more forward in the recording-balance and sings just as well. Beautifully performed, and an excellent prelude to The Crucifixion, is Goss's anthem, O Saviour of the World: to my mind, in fact, the best thing on the record.'