The Evening Service in A, Op 12, was commissioned by John Stainer for the annual Festival of the Sons of the Clergy at St Paul’s Cathedral where it was performed on 12 May 1880 with a chorus of over three hundred singers and an orchestra of fifty players under Stainer’s direction. Unlike Stanford’s other major settings of the canticles, which were initially conceived for organ and choir, the Op 12 Service began life as a conception for chorus and orchestra, a fact borne out by the technical difficulty of the organ transcription. Completed in February 1880, the Magnificat and Nunc dimittis sought to consolidate and expand the symphonic processes of the Service in B flat. This is particularly apparent in the ABA' design of the Magnificat which owes its cohesion to the thorough working-out of a single motivic idea (C sharp, D, E, A) heard at the opening. The double-choir Gloria is likewise based on the same figure. The Nunc dimittis is one of Stanford’s finest essays in this genre. Based on a duet in the tenor register (originally conceived for divided cellos), the movement contrasts a mood of sombre lyricism with the dramatic acclamation ‘and to be the glory of thy people Israel’. In these climactic bars one surely hears, albeit fleetingly, shades of the Valhalla of Das Rheingold
that Stanford had experienced for the first time at Bayreuth in 1876 (the majestic trumpets of the orchestral version certainly confirm this impression).
from notes by Jeremy Dibble © 1997