Crucifixus pro nobis is the most substantial of the works on this recording and is divided into four movements: ‘Christ in the Cradle’, ‘Christ in the Garden’, ‘Christ in His Passion’ and ‘Hymn’. The rather chilling and atmospheric first movement is for tenor alone, in contrast to the second movement which is for choir alone. The movement surges to a climax at the words ‘He only breathes a sigh’ where the choral writing breaks briefly into six parts before the atmosphere of the first movement returns over long, held pedal notes for the final phrases of the stanza.
The third movement combines both soloist and chorus. The soloist begins and the sense of restlessness is generated by the repeated semitone crotchet movement in the organ part. A central questioning six-part section ‘Why did he shake for cold?’ builds up to a climax before the movement concludes in the most bleak fashion. It is then, at this moment of despair, that Leighton plays his masterstroke in presenting the final ‘Hymn’ with sonorous harmonies.
In the early 1960s the writer André Hodeir boldly declared that Messiaen had been ‘defeated by the obstacle which has been the stumbling block of every composer since Debussy: form’. It is interesting that the construction of Leighton’s music always seems wholesome and complete. Many contemporary composers have struggled with form. Milner has observed that Leighton’s musical climaxes arise out of the growth of the music itself, and are not artificially contrived. Despite the composer’s use of tried and tested musical building blocks (such as fugue), Leighton rarely seems uncertain as to the direction of his music. Writing of his own organ work Martyrs: Dialogues on a Scottish Psalm-tune (1976), Leighton confessed to his admiration of the Dorian, rock-like quality of the hymn tune ‘Martyrs’ (1610), a hymn which he also used to conclude his sequence of psalms Laudes Montium written in 1975. The hymn tunes and plainsong which the composer experienced as a chorister have remained an inspiration, appearing throughout his compositional output, including his second symphony.
Returning to the fourth and final section of Crucifixus pro nobis, Leighton uses the largely homophonic movement of his hymn-type movement to ease the disquiet of the previous three movements and very effectively turns the intense questioning of the work into the hope of the resurrection.
from notes by William McVicker © 1992