Stainer's Crucifixion

  • Posted on: 21 March 2016
  • By: richard

A beautiful concert by Royston Choral Society in the magnificent Standon church.

The impressive Standon Church played host to a moving concert by Royston Choral Society on the evening of Palm Sunday.

Directed by Andrew O’Brien the choir started dynamically with excerpts from Handel’s Messiah. It was a commanding and lyrical beginning that illustrated their confidence in their new conductor’s skills. Even when singing ‘All we like sheep have gone astray’, the choir showed remarkable subtlety and attention to his sensitive hands. The large audience which comprised of all ages and families including a small baby, were soon entranced by the superbly talented Heath Mount School Choristers - two of which have recently won well deserved music scholarships to Haileybury School. Their voices seemed truly angelic in such an auspicious setting. The first half was rounded off with Mendelssohn’s ‘Hear my Prayer’. The magical voice of Thomas Scrope was responded to by the Royston choir with delicacy and conviction.

After an interval of friendly chat and wine, the audience settled down with hushed anticipation to hear the story of the Crucifixion; text written by Rev J Sparrow-Simpson and music composed by John Stainer. This proved to be an unpretentious and heart felt gem of a performance by Royston Choral Society. From the opening bars the clearly articulated narration from Andrew O’ Brien’s gentle and tender voice was extremely engaging. Both his singing and conducting revealed an unassuming but highly effective style. Michael Smith’s organ solo in ‘Processional to Calvary‘ also made it clear that this rendition, written in 1887, would show no hint of Victorian melodrama. It was performed sensitively in the spirit of ‘A Meditation on the Sacred Passion of the Holy Redeemer‘ - as Stainer had intended it. Standon Church was built as a processional church, the nave and chancel majestically forming one long sweep with vertiginous steps between nave, chancel and then sanctuary. The scene could not have been set more appropriately. When the choir gently sang ‘God so loved the World’ their facial and vocal expression left no doubt that they were engrossed in the story. The church bells furtively added to the atmosphere as they chimed in the last bar of ‘Jesus Said, “Father Forgive Them”, followed by a single shout from the impeccably behaved baby at the back; as did the deep rumbling chords of the Bass and organ in ‘There was darkness all around’ which must have chilled the Saxon foundations of the Church. The piece is interspersed with wonderful hymns blending the singing of audience / congregation with the choir. This created an engaging and inclusive experience, which poignantly served to highlight the men’s heartfelt solos of ‘Is it nothing to you?’ followed by the strident calls of ‘Oh why will ye die?’.The final communal hymn of ‘For the Love of Jesus’ completed the evening triumphantly.

The whole evening’s performance was a privilege to witness. It was not only the parents of choristers who walked away feeling proud and inspired on that chilly March night.