race for Stanford premières continues. The present disc completes
the three Piano Trios. Nos. 1 and 2 were both recorded by the
Pirasti Trio on ASV; my review of these may be read here.
The other three works are Stanford’s only chamber music involving
a solo clarinet and have all been recorded at least once. This
is the first time they have been usefully grouped together,
listed the works above in the order they appear on the CD, but
I shall discuss them in chronological order. I suggest that
the listener might hear them in this order at least once, in
the light of the following comments, as well as Keith Anderson’s
excellent notes, which also adopt a chronological approach.
I can see arguments in favour of the running order on the disc
if you just wish to sit back and enjoy your Stanford.
Stanford completed the Three Intermezzi in December 1879 he
already had Sonatas for Violin and Piano (c.1876-77) and Cello
and Piano (1877) to his credit, as well as a lost Piano Trio
(c.1875). His handling of larger forms was at this stage creditable
and sometimes bold, but he had also proved his mastery of smaller
structures in the Service in B flat (1879). He does so again
in these three delightful pieces which are beautifully written
with a real dialogue between the instruments. The forms are
simple ABA + coda but the Intermezzi are well contrasted, the
first sweet and songful with a scherzando middle section,
the second a passionate ballade-like piece with a gentle but
flowing central idea, the last delicate and humorous, contrasting
with a broader, hymn-like theme. Brahms is not so far away but
he had as yet written no clarinet music; Schumann’s Romances
for oboe and piano were doubtless known to Stanford.
our own day, the fact that they are for an instrument with a
small repertoire is a likely selling-point. Stanford, in order
to get them published, had to arrange them for violin and piano.
The title-page of the original Novello edition described them
as for “Violin (or Clarionet [sic]) (or Violoncello ad lib.)”
though a footnote on the first page of the score did mention
that they were originally composed for clarinet. Parts for clarinet
(and for cello) were available, but Stanford’s op.13 was issued
in its original form only in 1979 by Chester.
first recording was by Colin Bradbury and Oliver Davies on a
Discourses LP (ABM 29), now available from Clarinet Classics.
I have never heard this. Admirers of Stanford will most likely
know the recording by Emma Thompson and Malcolm Martineau (ASV
CD DCA 787), coupled with the Stanford Clarinet Concerto and
the Concerto and Bagatelles by Gerald Finzi. Both this and the
new recording are excellent. I noticed a few minor interpretative
differences between them but nothing to make me prefer one or
the other. There is also a recording by Gervase de Peyer and
Gwyneth Pryor (GDP 1007).
next work for clarinet was the Concerto op.80 (1902). My review
of the King/Francis recording also discusses those by Hilton/Handley
and Johnson/Groves. More recently Jonathan Woolf reviewed
a historical recording from 1952 by Frederick Thurston, who
as a young man had played the work under Stanford’s own baton.
was a pupil of Charles Draper, who had taken up the Clarinet
Concerto after its original dedicatee Richard Mühlfeld refused
to play it. Draper and Oscar Street were rewarded with the dedication
of Stanford’s Clarinet Sonata (1911). There was a slight delay
before the work was performed in 1916 and published in 1918
but thereafter the dearth of good romantic clarinet sonatas
ensured that this was one Stanford work that never fell entirely
out of sight. The central movement, a moving “Caoine”, has always
been recognized as one of Stanford’s finest, and most obviously
Irish, creations. Opinion has been divided as to whether the
outer movements are merely efficient Brahms clones or something
more. I played the work with a clarinettist in my university
days and I have never felt it lacks either emotional engagement
or personality. It is necessary to seek out the enchanted Celtic
atmosphere and the leprechaun humour with limpid tone and transparent
textures, but it is there.
the days when it was politically correct to perform a single
movement of a sonata, the “Caoine” was sometimes heard alone.
It entered the record catalogue many years before its companion
movements in a 1937 Decca recording by Frederick Thurston. The
first complete performance was presumably that by John Denman
and Hazel Vivienne, issued in 1971 on the short-lived Revolution
label. I never bought this but I recall that in 1974 the best
the BBC could manage as a tribute to Stanford on the 50th
anniversary of his death was the Second Cello Sonata in a recording
of their own by the lamented Thomas Igloi and the Denman/Vivienne
Clarinet Sonata. My impression was that the recording was too
cramped and boxy to enable the listener to judge whether the
predominantly unsympathetic impression was partly the performer’s
fault too. Denman re-recorded the work with his wife Paula Fan
– see review
by Rob Barnett. The first recording to circulate widely was
presumably that by Thea King and Clifford Benson (Hyperion).
My comparisons have been with this and Einar Jóhannesson/Philip
Jenkins on Chandos. At least two versions that I don’t know
sound promising: Gervase de Peyer/Gwyneth Pryor (GDP 1004) and
Victoria Soames/John Flinders (Clarinet Classics). All these
records present mixed programmes of British clarinet music.
performance of those I know seems to me to get to the heart
of the work – the Jóhannesson. King (07:45, 05:50, 06:00) and
Plane (07:33, 05:40, 05:31) are not dissimilar in their approaches,
while Jóhannesson is significantly broader (08:11, 07:09, 06:51).
The music amply repays the performers’ faith in it, acquiring
greater stature, range and depth. In particular, the “Caoine”
is allowed its full weight of grief and tender regret. However,
King and Plane do many lovely and loving things. Again, I find
it hard to choose between them. Perhaps Frith has slightly more
tonal allure than Benson – but I have the Hyperion on LP – while
King is marginally smoother-toned. For sheer richness of tone
Jóhannesson outdoes both.
the Clarinet Sonata and the Third Piano Trio, completed in April
1918, came the war. The score has the subtitle “Per aspera ad
astra”, a direct reference to the Royal Flying Corps, and the
dedication gives the initials of five officers who were killed
in action. Two were sons of Alan Gray, Stanford’s successor
as organist to Trinity College. Despite this the music, while
highly serious in tone, is not elegiac or even sombre. In some
of his later post-war works Stanford was inventive, even experimental,
in his attitude to traditional musical forms. Here consolidation
seems his main concern. The first movement is a succinct, taut
piece which packs considerable punch, the second a noble, sometimes
impassioned flowering. The finale is energetic and busy. As
in the finales of the two previous trios, it is possible to
feel a lowering of inspiration, perilously close to mere entertainment,
though the secondary material makes some amends. Still, it’s
enjoyable in its way. I wonder if a slower tempo might help?
I’d call this “Allegro molto” rather than “Allegro maestoso
e moderato” though the performance does not exactly sound rushed.
This query apart, the Gould Piano Trio give an excellent account.
Frith’s sensitivity to Stanford’s piano writing suggests Naxos
should ask him to set down some of the solo works.
I recently had the pleasure of discovering with the Third Piano
Concerto (on Lyrita, see review
by John France, a review by myself is also on the way), the
post-war Stanford could sometimes take a richly inventive attitude
towards musical form. The three Fantasies (1921-1922) – the
third, for horn and string quartet, is available on Hyperion,
see my review
and those of Rob
Barnett and Michael
Cookson – take this a stage further. They are in a sense
miniature Clarinet Quintets, each in three movements, played
without a break, but the effect, however tightly controlled,
is of free rhapsodizing. Nothing is known about the composition
of these pieces. Jeremy Dibble has suggested they might have
been written for student performance at the RCM (Charles
Villiers Stanford: Man and Musician, Oxford 2002) but no
evidence has come to light that they were actually performed
there. In 1922 the young Frederick Thurston played Stanford’s
Clarinet Concerto with the composer conducting the RCM orchestra.
Quite often in Stanford’s late years the revival of an earlier
work seems to have stimulated the composition of a new one.
Performances of the First Violin Concerto and Second Piano Concerto
during the war years by Margaret Harrison and Benno Moiseiwitsch
respectively resulted in a new concerto for each instrument
(1918-1919). Here too, there is no evidence that Stanford actually
submitted the new works to these or other performers and they
were certainly never played. The titles of the Fantasies have
led to speculation that they may have been intended as entries
for Cobbett’s “Phantasy” competition. Yet again, there seems
to be no evidence that this was so. Stanford attached no opus
numbers to them and does not appear to have sought publication.
Was he uneasy about his relative departure from tradition?
pieces only came to light in the 1990s and those for clarinet
were first recorded by Thea King with the Britten Quartet (Hyperion).
I had hitherto thought the Fantasy for horn the finest, but
the heartfelt performance here of the central Andante of the
first of those for clarinet makes me realize that King – elegant
but cool – had missed its finer qualities. I now find it an
enigmatic, but touching and compelling work.
don’t doubt the strength of feeling behind the second Fantasy
but I do feel it lacks thematic distinction, almost as if Stanford
is determined to demonstrate that you can make something
out of nothing. On the other hand, the sheer catchiness of the
perky little motive that scampers over most of the outer sections
may be irresistible for some – a curious anticipation of Malcolm
Arnold. This time Thea King gives the Adagio its full weight
of expression and I see no reason to prefer one performance
over the other. Altogether, this useful grouping of Stanford’s
three chamber works involving clarinet seems to be the most
convenient way of getting them, though I think you should hear
Jóhannesson in the Sonata.
Second Piano Quartet op.133 (1913) is now the one large chamber
piece with piano by Stanford still unrecorded, together with
one or two CDs-worth of smaller pieces for violin and piano.
While we still await String Quartets 3-8 and the Second String
Quintet. Still, we’re getting on …