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
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.
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
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.
by John France
in this series:
of Symphonies 2 & 5
of Symphonies 3 & 6
of Symphonies 4 & 7