Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Music Webmaster
Len Mullenger:

Symphony No. 5 (1985) 19.31
Ancient Verses for choir and percussion (1978) 14.10
Taikyoku (Symphony No. 4) for two pianos and percussion (1976) 15.49
Folksongs Set 1 for string orchestra (1983) 4.51
A Christmas Carol Symphony (1978) 15.44
RTS MUSIC 1997 Promotional CD (NOT FOR SALE) [75.00]

This is not a commercial disc so don't try ordering it from a retail source. However, after reviewing the Kodaly Competition disc of Standford's St Francis, I simply had to request it and attempt to write about the music.

The first thing to say is that I was agreeably surprised to find that this is not 'a thing of rags and tatters'. The disc which is packed to the extent of 75 minutes includes only complete works of which there are five. Amongst these there are no fewer than three of Standford's symphonies.

Regrettably details of the performers are not given although these must surely be from the premiere performances or broadcasts. This anonymity may be associated with the fact that this is not a commercial product and otherwise there might have been copyright and royalty implications?

The orchestral Fifth Symphony (which is in respectable FM radio quality sound) is in three movements of which the middle movement is a setting for solo soprano of words from 'Carmina Burana'. The vocal writing is close to Tippett's (vintage A Child of Our Time). The first movement is rife with energy to the point of violence. Here the approximation is to the Panufnik Tragic Overture and the 1940s and 1950s symphonies of William Schuman. The breezy finale is a collage of quotations and almost-quotations each disrupting and interacting with the others. The lynch-pin is the finale of Mozart Symphony No. 40 with 'splinters' from Tchaikovsky (Pathétique), Beethoven (Symphony 9) and Brahms (Symphony No. 3) among many other familiar voices.

Ancient Voices was written for Estonian performers. Britten's desperately under-rated Our Hunting Fathers was surely an influence on the vocal writing and in the third of the three movements the singing takes on a new simplicity in a very high Bluebird-like stillness. Taikyoku is a symphony for two pianos and percussion. It was premiered at the RCM. Howard Shelley and Hilary Macnamara were the two pianists in its first broadcast back in 1982. This would be a natural for Evelyn Glennie (with others!) and in 1993 it duly received the Glennie Percussion Award. How to describe its soundworld? It is busy and seething with movement. There is always something happening! Shostakovich and George Crumb come to mind as do the fantasies of Conlon Nancarrow and Henry Cowell. In the final, and extremely appealing, short section (Perfumes) a Japanese minimalism plays out niente.

In the singable simplicity of the Folk Songs for strings Standford lucidly arranges and develops folksongs from Hungary, Cheremissia (Finland close to Russia - remember Uuno Klami's Cheremissian Fantasy for cello and orchestra?) and Romania. The recording quality is a shade chalky. Together this succinct set plays for just over 4 minutes.

A shade of warmth and radio broadcast hiss hangs over the recording quality of the Carol Symphony performance as well. This is also a melodious piece without any of the modern complexities of the first three works. Christmas songs wink at you from every corner: Deck the Boughs, Ding Dong Merrily on High, Away in a Manger, We Three Kings and I Saw Three Ships. The whole work is immediately appealing without being at all anodyne. The andante is the crowning section - Baxian and Delian in its heat-hazed self-absorption. The finale has suggestions of Grainger. The original tape suffered a shade of overload but nothing to worry about. More concerning (were this to have been a commercial product) is the fast cycling 'scratch' that hangs over the last movement.

I do urge you to hear this music. All you need to do to request a copy (if you have promotion and/or appraisal in mind) is to write to the address given below.

Standford has in hand a Sixth Symphony and an opera about François Villon; also a book about the private lives of the composers. I do hope that we get to hear these works and that the composer will consider issuing a CD sampler of his cello concerto which I and many others are most anxious to hear. I wonder if the Violin Concerto has been performed.

This is most remarkable introduction to a fine and too little known composer.


Rob Barnett

You can request a copy of this extraordinary promotional CD from:-

RTS Music
17 Bradford Road
Wakefield WF1 2RF

phone: +44 (0) 1924 370454


See also composer biography by David Wright

Read reviews of the following disc

Winners of the First International Composers' Competition.
PATRIC STANDFORD  The Prayer of Saint Francis interrupted by bells
PETER KNELL The Sun's Blinking Eye
ROBERT GULYA Piano Concerto
Budapest SO and Hungarian Radio and TV Chorus/Tamas Vasary.
HUNGAROTON BR 0156 CD available from: Kodaly Foundation, Budapest

Rob Barnett  David Wright Gary Higginson


Rob Barnett

Reviews from previous months

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