Page 6 - Stainer Crucifixion
P. 6

Romanticism, Stainer and his High-Church librettist imbued the work with something of the spirit of the Lutheran passion by including narrative-style recitative, taken principally from the Gospels and Lamentations, prose poetry for the choruses and arias, and Anglican style hymns for congregational participation (in place of chorales).
There are effectively four principal choral sections: ‘The Agony’; the ‘Processional to Calvary’ which is a ‘March and Trio’ including the well-known choral exclamation ‘Fling wide the gates’ and a trio for solo tenor; the central, unaccompanied anthem (and the preludial bass solo before it) which quotes from St John’s Gospel, ‘God so loved the world’, arguably one of Stainer’s masterpieces in its simplicity and powerful word setting (note the dissonance on ‘so’ in the first line); and the rather Gounodesque final chorus (‘The Appeal of the Crucified’) which begins with a march where we are introduced to the recurring interrogation ‘Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by?’, from the first chapter of Lamentations (v. 12). (This was also a text used by Stainer’s mentor, Frederick Ouseley, for his eponymous Passion anthem.) We first hear a reference to this musical idea in the ‘Processional to Calvary’ as sung by the tenor soloist (‘Past evil, and evil to be’), but in ‘The Appeal to the Crucified’ it becomes an integral part of the musical structure assuming the role of a ‘motto’, first in the march in C minor and later, more insistently, in the moving supplication (‘O come unto me’) in the dominant major.
The choral paragraphs are themselves balanced by music for two soloists, a tenor and bass, whose music is deliberately more demanding and intended for professional or semi-professional singers. The bass’s opening solo (‘The Agony’), which epitomises Christ’s vulnerability, is a strophic ‘song’ with refrains for the chorus. This is complemented by the tenor aria (‘The majesty of the divine humiliation’), a passionate movement in which Stainer’s modified strophic design is heavily imbued with his particular brand of ‘High Victorian’ chromaticism. Perhaps the high point, though, of the solo material is the duet (‘So Thou liftest Thy divine petition’) whose binary structure emerges from the darker hue of F minor into the more lyrical, buoyant tonic major at its conclusion. In this music, especially in such yearning phrases as ‘So Thou pleadest’, it is not difficult to hear incipient signs of Elgar’s earliest works for the church such as ‘Ave verum’ and ‘Ave Maris stella’. Finally, the entire fabric of The Crucifixion is punctuated by a series of five hymns, all of them inventive examples of Stainer’s brilliance as a hymn-writer (rivalled only by John Bacchus Dykes). Perhaps the first of these, ‘Cross of Jesus’, is the finest, yet the quasi-plainchant refrain of ‘Holy Jesu, by Thy Passion’, is deeply affecting, and the uplifting E major of ‘All for Jesus’ at the close simply yet perfectly transforms the darkness of the work’s opening C# minor into a mood of expectancy at the coming of the resurrection.

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