> STANFORD Irish Songs[]: Classical CD Reviews- July2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Charles Villiers STANFORD (1852-1924)
Irish Songs and Ballads

The Chapel on the Hill (W.M. Letts) Op.139 no.2
Trottin' to the Fair (Alfred Perceval Graves)
My love's an Arbutus (Alfred Perceval Graves)
The Confession (Alfred Perceval Graves)
The winds of Bethlehem (W.M. Letts) Op.175 no.3
The song of the Bow (Heber) Op.175 No.1
Jenny (Alfred Perceval Graves)
Colonel Carty (Alfred Perceval Graves)
Londonderry Air (Alfred Perceval Graves)
The Blackbird and the Wren (Alfred Perceval Graves) Op.76
The Zephyrs Blest (Alfred Perceval Graves)
A Lament (Alfred Perceval Graves)
The Willow Tree (Alfred Perceval Graves)
Drop me a Flower (Tennyson) Op.175 no.2
Heraclitus (William Cory) Op.110 no.4
Blackberry Time (W. M. Letts) Op.139 no.5
A Soft Day (W.M. Letts) Op.140 no.3
The Merry Month of May (Thomas Dekker)
The Ploughman's Whistle (Alfred Perceval Graves)
The Monkey's Carol (W.M. Letts)
The Irish Reel (Alfred Perceval Graves)
The Bold Unbiddable Child (W.M. Letts) Op.140 no.2
Witches' Charms (Ben Jonson)
The Fairy Lough (Moira O'Neill)
More of Cloyne (Traditional)
The Poison on the Darts (Theocritus/Alfred Perceval Graves)
Thief of the World (W.M. Letts) Op.140 no.2
Back to Ireland (Moira O'Neill)
James Griffett (tenor) with Cifford Benson (piano)
CAMPION CAMEO 2001 [67.13]

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 and ballads.

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 (tk21).

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.

Raymond Walker

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