Stainer: The Crucifixion

John Stainer made it his life’s work to reform and renew the standards of music in schools, parish churches, colleges and cathedrals up and down the land. His two most lasting legacies are our thriving cathedral choral tradition and this piece – The Crucifixion.

Intended to be accessible, and full of the zeal and emotion of the reforming High Church, Stainer’s meditation on the Passion was immediately taken up in both Britain and America, and is as popular today as ever.

Here, Duncan Ferguson and the Choir of St Mary’s Cathedral, Edinburgh are joined by two rising-star Scottish soloists and, in the hymns, by a nave-full of local young musicians and the cathedral’s own worshippers to create a true sense of the musical community spirit that the composer had in mind.

"[Stainer's Crucifixion], when performed with such professional polish and intensity as in this new release, comes up well.Crucial to a successful interpretation is the quality of the soloists, and conductor Duncan Ferguson has struck gold with tenor Liam Bonthrone and baritone Arthur Bruce. All of the tenor narrations are imbued with suitably dramatic fervour (with 'The Mystery of the Divine Humiliation' being especially memorable) and the Choir of St Mary's Cathedral, Edinburgh, are also on top form. Their diction is crisp and vivid and they show a great range of power and refinement, from the clamouring of 'Fling wide the gates' to the hushed intensity of 'God so loved the world', which I have never heard more beautifully rendered.The five hymns are heartily sung, with a real sense of unanimity from the large congregation. Imogen Morgan provides exceptionally vivid and sensitive organ accompaniment throughout, for example in track 16, 'There was darkness',which provides a real sonic treat. She has a clear instinct for quasi- orchestral colour. There is a strong sense of occasion on this splendid recording, which surely sets the benchmark high"


'a thrilling experience ... With solo singing of great communicativeness from tenor Liam Banthorne and baritone Arthur Bruce, and resplendent organ playing from Imogen Morgan, the soaring choral lines and moments of full-throated splendour give this performance an expressive sincerity that is enormously persuasive. It includes excellent supporting notes from Stainer authority Jeremy Dibble, and it’s a timely addition to the catalogue'

SPIN DOCTOR -read full feature here

'A dry and clinical recording would be ruinous to the sweet disposition of Stainer’s harmonies, so the big warm bath of St Mary’s acoustic is mostly a boon ... A sceptical performance wouldn’t work either. Luckily, all the participants, from the expressive tenor Liam Bonthrone to the the diligent organist Imogen Morgan, radiate sincerity in a work weak on drama but comfortingly strong on gentle feelings'

★ ★ ★ ★

"Premiered in 1887, Stainer's Bach-inspired oratorio was dedicated to the choir of Marylebone Parish Church (where it is performed every Easter) and is a firm favourite with choral societies across the UK. This new recording was made at St Mary's Cathedral, with participation from the pupils and staff at St Mary's Music School and the cathedral congregation; tenor soloist Liam Bonthrone is currently a member of the Opera Studio of the Bayerische Staatsoper (where he debuts as Pedrillo in Die Entführung aus dem Serail this month), whilst Arthur Bruce was a prize-winner at The Emmy Destinn Young Singers Awards last year"


"a new recording of a once-popular sacred work that's fallen through the cracks. I approached it with some trepidation but read, wisely, Jeremy Dibble's engaging sleeve note before pressing play ... Scan William Sparrow's libretto and you'll read stretches of text which almost defy musical setting, but Stainer somehow makes the most ungainly phrases sing, and his dramatic instincts are sound - having the chorus play a subsidiary role during the opening recitative and ensuing "The Agony", makes their entry in the "Processional to Calvary" ("Fling wide the Gates!") all the more effective. Organist Imogen Morgan is superb at building the tension during the Elgarian march which precedes the big moment. The choral singing here is rich and weighty, Duncan Ferguson's Edinburgh forces well-drilled and blessed with superb diction. They're impressive in the five hymns which punctuate the story, "Cross of Jesus" offering comfort after a succinct account of the titular event. Tenor Liam Bonthrone and baritone Arthur Bruce sing with conviction and it's a pity that Stainer doesn't give them more to do together; the central duet is glorious ... Highly recommended ... Production values are high, with impressive engineering and clear libretto"

"a wonderful performance from Duncan Ferguson and the Choir of St Mary’s Cathedral, Edinburgh, who are joined by two rising-star Scottish soloists and, in the hymns, by a nave-full of local young musicians and the cathedral’s own worshippers to create a true sense of the musical community spirit that the composer had in mind ... In this exceptionally fine rendition, the control of the cathedral choir when unaccompanied is marvellous and well-balance ... The dynamics, tuning and diction from Ferguson’s choir are first-class, whether it be the attack on words in the ‘crucify’ section in ‘The Appeal of the Crucified’ or the tenors and basses in the recitative ‘And one of the malefactors’. The sound is confident and magisterial at times, as well as tender and meditative when required. The whole ensemble captures the emotion well, and the pause after the tenor sings ‘And he bowed his head and gave up the ghost’ efficaciously adds to the drama before the climax of the last hymn. Anyone who wants to re-evaluate this work would do well to listen to this recording, as I am sure it will bolster its popularity"

[Stainer's Crucifixion] deserves a good performance. That it certainly gets here. Duncan Ferguson has his cathedral choir to carry the choral sections, and they are strengthened by others, including the cathedral congregation, for the hymns, which is entirely proper. He also ensures that the music moves along without the risk of getting bogged down. The two soloists, the tenor Liam Bonthrone and the baritone Arthur Bruce, are rising stars both on the operatic stage and in concert and they have the right kind of voices and delivery for their roles. I should explain that, unlike, Bach, Stainer did not designate one voice as the evangelist and another as Jesus, but varied the voices, so that, for example, Jesus’s words are sung sometimes by the bass and sometimes by the chorus. The soloists have a good deal of work and also an impressive duet, ‘So Thou liftest Thy divine petition’ at about halfway through. I should also mention Imogen Morgan’s sensitive support on the organ.The recording, made in the cathedral, is fine and resonant without excessive reverberation and the booklet, from which I have drawn, is very helpful. Jeremy Dibble, who wrote it, is the leading authority on Stainer and edited the edition of the work that is performed. There are other recordings, which I have not heard, but I find it hard to believe that they could be better than this one. Indeed, it seems to me an ideal performance, which does the best for the work.'

Release Date: 29 March 2024
Catalogue No: DCD34275
Total playing time: 1:09:08
Recorded on 22-26 May 2023 in St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral, Edinburgh

Producer/Engineer: Paul Baxter
24-bit digital editing: Jack Davis
24-bit digital mastering: Paul Baxter

Design: John Christ
Booklet editor: Henry Howard
Cover: Diocesan Meeting of  
Parish Choirs at Salisbury Cathedral, Illustrated London News, 15 June 1861; photo: duncan1890/iStock
Session photography and videography: foxbrush.co.uk

Delphian Records Ltd – Edinburgh – UK www.delphianrecords.com

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