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Not my favourite recording
on 3 August 2011
I bought this on the strength of a very good review (by Jeremy Dibble) in The Gramophone, February 2010, but must admit to being rather disappointed. The performance, though good in itself (all the right notes in all the right places), seems to lack impact, colour and definition, compared with recordings by smaller, brighter cathedral or college choirs. And where is the stunning tuba interjection first heard in the organ accompaniment at bar 8 of 'Fling wide the gates'?
I've always believed 'The Crucifixion' to be an unnecessarily underestimated work that gains much from the right sort of performance. This isn't it, I'm afraid, however caring the preparation and execution. The tenor soloist, the excellent Andrew Kennedy, sings beautifully but with not much passion or sheer oomph, such as the role demands.
One of my favourite features, the wonderful hymn tunes that can be so expressive and moving in their dignity (like the chorales in a Bach passion), are performed in a very monochrome, run-of-the-mill manner.
This sort of performance might suit some listeners, but not me. Nor Stainer, I suspect: he wrote it for the choir of St Marylebone Parish Church in London, presumably with the sound of that type of choir in mind. No reason why larger, mixed amateur choirs shouldn't sing it (as has happened for years in Nonconformist chapels, of course - this is where the work was kept alive) but they need to work hard on expression and dynamics - and words!
It's a dramatic piece, not a religious ramble, and conductors must inspire their performers to see it that way.