Charles Villiers Stanford comes from an Irish
lawyer family (Dublin born) and it is often to his native country that
he turned for collaborators, such as Antrim poet Moira O'Neill (Irish
Idyll) and Winifred Letts (A Soft Day). His Songs of the
Sea are dedicated to Harry Plunket Greene, a tenor also from Ireland.
Stanford was quite gifted and won a Cambridge organ scholarship (Queen's
College) followed by a classical scholarship. Already a composer of
a variety of music by the time he was elected assistant conductor of
the University Musical Society in 1871, and two years after this appointment
he became its principal conductor, a post he was to hold for 20 years.
A period of study took place at Leipzig under Reinecke and Berlin. As
a teacher he was an influential figure who taught a whole generation
of students which included Arthur Benjamin, Frank Bridge, Butterworth,
Howells and Vaughan Williams. Alongside his symphonies, choral works,
string quartets and organ works, he composed over three hundred songs
Most of the contents of this disc are taken from his
Thirty Irish Songs and Ballads, Fifty Songs of Old Ireland, and
Six Songs volumes. The twenty-eight songs and ballads cover a wide
compass of the composerís output. Apparently, some of the unpublished
songs were missing and research by Griffett and Benson was necessary
to find them.
About the setting of folk songs Stanford has clearly
applied the advice he gave to his students ó "The colour and sense
of every verse must be grasped, and any advisable variations both of
harmonies and figures must conform to them ... there is only one golden
rule set them as you feel them, without straining after effects ..."
This is put into practice in his own compositions.
The delicacy of lullaby accompaniment in the traditional, More of
Cloyne, is particularly fitting for the lyrics.
Tenor, James Griffett, has a wide repertoire ranging
from Monteverdi to Tavener. (He has previously appeared as soloist on
the Blow and Purcell Campion disc, Welcome evíry Guest.) His
light voice is suited to this material and he displays good phrasing
and attention to detail. As a co-founder of Pro Cantione, he sings on
their recordings and worldwide concert tours. Here he picks up the rhythm
in the songs nicely. Listen to the contrast of style in the lullaby,
More of Cloyne (tk25) with the energetic (tk6) with its catchy
rhythm and breezy phrasing.
A word should be said about the recording. The singer
is a little recessed to pick up subtle differences in dynamics, but
the reverberation is not too much to cloud his delivery. The piano is
nicely placed to allow one to pick out all nuances in playing. Clifford
Benson, was a former student of the RCM where he won the Chopin Sonata
prize and the Tagore Gold medal. He went on to become a prizewinner
of the BBC Beethoven and Munich International Duo competitions and has
an excellent reputation as an accompanist. Here doesnít disappoint,
and draws much feeling from Stanfordís compositions. The empathy between
the two musicians is good and most discernable in The Irish Reel
The notes give a short biography on Stanford in English
only and full lyrics to the songs, with mention of opus numbers where
found. Perhaps, it would have been of interest to be given the dates
for each songs/ballads where published to allow one to consider any
changing style between early and later compositions. We are told that
the recording was originally mastered by Hyperion on metal-mastered
LPs. They were not transferred to CD when the great changeover started
twenty years ago and since then the master tapes, initially mislaid,
were found in poor condition in 1996. For this CD it has been necessary
to restore and digitally remaster the recordings. The result is very
good and provides us with an excellent archive of these forgotten works.