John Stainer, proclaimed by Arthur Sullivan to be a genius, was an active figure in Victorian musical life as a performer, teacher, composer, and scholar, whose seminal research on early Renaissance polyphonists remains significant. Few modern musicians would claim that Stainer's genius primarily lay in his compositions, and he himself characterized his most famous work, the Passion oratorio, The Crucifixion (1887), as "rubbish." While there are countless listeners who would agree with that assessment, the oratorio enjoyed widespread popularity in English-speaking countries in the 19th century, with its cachet somewhat diminishing since then. Nonetheless, the number of enthusiastic performances it has received by church choirs and amateur choral societies is testimony that its straightforward melodies and harmonies and unabashedly emotional message resonate with wide audiences, even if those audiences are generally not made up of classical concertgoers. Even listeners who cringe at the mawkish platitudes of the libretto and the largely cloying sentimentality of the music could acknowledge the effectiveness of moments like the chaste a cappella motet "God so loved the world." The performance by the Huddersfield Choral Society led by Joseph Cullen downplays the work's histrionics and treats it with a reserve and seriousness that will probably not make believers out of skeptics but that might increase appreciation of the piece as a sincere and respectable product of its time and place. Tenor Andrew Kennedy, bass Neal Davies, and organist Darius Battiwalla deliver expert and dignified performances, and the sound of the Huddersfield Choral Society is warm, clean, youthful, and intimate. This is probably about as persuasive a presentation of the work as it is likely to receive, so it should please those who are fans as well as give curious newcomers the best possible impression of a piece that has long been maligned as an emblem of the lack of sophistication in Victorian musical culture.
AllMusic Review by Stephen Eddins