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Download: Classicsonline

Sir Charles Villiers STANFORD (1852-1924)
Symphony No. 1 in B flat major (1876) [48:36]
Clarinet Concerto Op.80 (1903) [22:03]
Robert Plane (clarinet)
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/David Lloyd-Jones
rec. Concert Hall. Lighthouse, Poole, Dorset, UK, 19-20 June 2007. DDD
Sir Charles Villiers Stanford: Symphonies - Volume 4
NAXOS 8.570356 [70:39]


Experience Classicsonline

This release might be said to be a case of “In my beginning is my end” for the Naxos Stanford symphony cycle concludes with his First Symphony.

Written in 1876 and entered for a competition – in which it won second prize – the symphony was not performed until 1879. But this three-year wait was as nothing: in his notes accompanying the Vernon Handley cycle (Chandos) Lewis Foreman says that the work was then forgotten until the Handley recording was made in 1991.

The symphony is on a pretty ambitious scale for a first attempt in the genre; cast in the classic four movements and playing for just over three quarters of an hour. Certainly Stanford did not lack confidence! The substantial first movement is prefaced by an expansive introduction, expressively unfolded by David Lloyd-Jones, after which an energetic allegro vivace is unfurled (4:33). The influences on Stanford’s music of German romantics – Brahms, Mendelssohn and, in particular, Schumann – are often cited. This allegro is a prime example and, to be honest, if I’d heard this music ‘blind’ and been asked to name the composer I’m sure the name of Schumann would have sprung readily to mind. It’s lively, enjoyable music and the performance is similarly lively.

The second movement is an affectionate ländler, sporting two contrasting trios. Lloyd-Jones ensures that the music flows easily and naturally. He leads a fine account of the slow movement, which features some especially pleasing string passages. To wrap things up Stanford provides a vigorous, confident finale. This bracing music finds the Bournemouth orchestra in sprightly form. The symphony is an assured and enjoyable start to Stanford’s career as a symphonist. The present performance can also be described as assured and enjoyable and, as such, it’s on a par with the previous issues in this series and a fitting culmination to this Naxos cycle.

Stanford’s Clarinet Concerto is probably his best-known orchestral work and it makes an appropriate choice to fill out this CD and round off the series, especially as its first performance took place in Bournemouth. Stanford wrote it and initially dedicated it to Richard Mühlfeld, the inspiration behind the clarinet chamber music of Brahms. However, Mühlfeld rejected the work. Like so many other of Stanford’s orchestral compositions the concerto fell into neglect after its debut but it was rescued from obscurity by Frederick Thurston and here we have a direct line, as it were, through the late Dame Thea King, pupil and wife of Thurston, to the soloist on this present recording. Robert Plane, the current principal clarinet of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, was a pupil of Dame Thea, who made a celebrated recording of this very concerto, (see review). He gracefully dedicates his own recording of it to her memory.

It’s a fine concerto, in which Stanford writes effectively for the solo instrument. He exploits the athletic potential of the clarinet but, above all, he relishes its woody melodic capabilities. At the heart of the concerto – accounting for nearly half of its length – is the lovely Andante con moto. Robert Plane phrases the music sensitively and evocatively and he receives excellent support from the orchestra. I feel sure that Thea King would have delighted in his lyrical account of this movement and that she would have appreciated his sprightly playing in the outer movements. This is a splendid performance and it makes a welcome appendage to the symphony cycle.

It’s been a delight to appraise this cycle of the Stanford symphonies. They are not top- drawer works of blazing genius in the manner of the symphonies of Elgar or the best of the Vaughan Williams cycle: in the last analysis the music isn’t on the same plane of achievement, nor is it as consistently memorable. However, they are far from negligible and their neglect is as regrettable as it is unjustified. The fine recordings by Vernon Handley are far from displaced in my view but this cycle by David Lloyd-Jones complements the Handley recordings very nicely. It is a cause for celebration that we have not one recorded cycle of the Stanford symphonies available but two. And for me one of the key things is that at the advantageous Naxos price music-lovers will be tempted, I hope, to give these symphonies a try and in that way the audience for them should be expanded.

Anyone coming new to these symphonies can invest with confidence in this disc or in any of its predecessors. As is so often the case with Naxos, the price may be low but the quality of the product is most certainly not.

Naxos are to be thanked for and congratulated on their Stanford cycle. May we now hope that they will turn their attention to Parry’s five fine symphonies and some of his other orchestral music, not least his masterly Symphonic Variations? I’d venture to suggest that in David Lloyd-Jones and the estimable Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra they have just the team for the job.

John Quinn

see also Review by John France

Previous releases in this series:

Review of Symphonies 2 & 5
Review of Symphonies 3 & 6
Review of Symphonies 4 & 7



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