Sir Charles Villiers STANFORD (1852-1924)
Cello Concerto in D minor (1879/80) [25:42]
Rondo in F major for cello and orchestra (1869) [8:32]
Ballata and Ballabile for cello and orchestra, Op. 160 (1918) [19:14]
Irish Rhapsody No. 3 for cello and orchestra, Op. 137 (1913) [16:36]
Gemma Rosefield (cello)
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra/Andrew Manze
rec. 6-7 January 2011, City Halls, Candleriggs, Glasgow, Scotland
HYPERION CDA67859 [70:08]
This Hyperion release is volume three in the label’s series The Romantic Cello Concerto. Volume one consists of works by Dohnányi, Enescu and d'Albert (see review), and volume two Volkmann, Dietrich, Gernsheim and Schumann (see review).
It is heartening to see this disc in the catalogues. In the last decade or so a reassessment of Stanford’s works has been taking place primarily due to a considerable number of new CD releases and the publication of two substantial biographies by Jeremy Dibble and Paul Rodmell. Hyperion has lead the way in bringing Stanford’s music to the public’s attention with a wide range of discs that have spanned a number of genres: solo song, sacred choral, orchestral song, instrumental, chamber, concertante, orchestral and a number of works for chorus and orchestra. In the main this leaves Stanford’s ten operas to be explored a prospect which seems increasingly unlikely in the current economic climate.
Gemma Rosefield, a winner in 2006 of the prestigious Pierre Fournier Award, is the soloist. A young cellist in the early stages of her career it is good that she has been given this opportunity to excel. Here the conductor is the admirable Andrew Manze who has been known for many years as an early music specialist. He has in recent times emerged as a conductor of intelligence and rare vision. In May 2010 at Munich I saw his ability at first hand when he conducted the Munich Philharmonic in a fascinating and well received programme of Purcell and Britten.
Stanford was a mere sixteen year old when he wrote his Rondo in F major for cello and orchestra. It’s dedicated to the German cellist Wilhelm Elsner. At the time of its composition Stanford was still living with his parents in Dublin. It was to be another year before he would start his studies at Cambridge University. Quite delightfully played by Rosefield the F major Rondo is undemanding with a number of light and appealing melodies.
Stanford wrote his Cello Concerto for another German cellist Robert Hausmann who gave some assistance with the score. It seems that only the Molto adagio was performed and that was a version for cello and piano given at Cambridge. The Cello Concerto comes from the period between the completion of Stanford’s early opera The Veiled Prophet of Khorassan and the Symphony No. 2 in D minorElegiac’. Although well crafted and highly attractive I’m not going to make any claims that the Cello Concerto is a work as fine as the Irish Rhapsody No. 3. The extended opening Allegro moderato immediately reminded me of Dvořák; especially the cello score Klid (Silent Woods). I loved the passionately pining rhapsodic first theme. The second theme is genial and rather upbeat with a singing quality. There’s also an attractive third theme - all rapt tenderness. This movement is a good example of how Stanford’s moods are contrasted but never given to extremes. It is as if he was keeping his reserve by avoiding placing his heart on this sleeve. A beautiful atmosphere is created by Rosefield in the Molto adagio in an episode that evokes the sweet scent of summer flowers or even depicts punting on the River Cam at Cambridge. At this time Stanford had not been married long to his sweetheart Jennie Wetton; maybe the elation of being in love was not far away from his thoughts. The lyrical and virtuosic Rosefield performs the dance-like Rondo, finale impressively imparting a warm appeal. In the catalogues there is another fine recording of the Cello Concerto a 2007 release played by cellist Alexander Baillie with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under Nicholas Braithwaite on Lyrita SRCD.321.
Stanford saved some of his finest material for his set of six Irish Rhapsodies. With a prominent part for solo cello the Irish Rhapsody No. 3 is one of the composer’s most appealing scores. Composed in 1913 at a time when Stanford had recently completed his Seventh Symphony he was deeply concerned about the issue of Home Rule for Ireland. The horrors of the Great War were just around the corner. It seems that the Third Irish Rhapsody was not performed until many years after Stanford’s death when soloist Raphael Wallfisch played the cello part in 1987 in Belfast with the Ulster Orchestra under Vernon Handley. Rather than extrovert display the eloquent soloist is given a satisfying cantabile role. There are some squally moments but the predominant mood has a characteristically dreamy, far away quality. Vernon Handley recorded the set of six Irish Rhapsodies with the Ulster Orchestra in 1986/91 at Belfast’s Ulster Hall. Handley’s recording is exemplary being beautifully performed by cello soloist Raphael Wallfisch on Chandos X10116(2).
Written in 1918 for the young cellist and former RCM student Beatrice Harrison the Ballata and Ballabile for cello and small orchestra is a product of the Great War years. The impact of the war that was raging across the Channel affected Stanford greatly. He was distraught that his son Guy had been posted to the Somme and a that a number of students and colleagues from the RCM and Cambridge had been killed, injured or captured. Harrison went on to perform the piece in a version for cello and piano in 1919 at the Wigmore Hall with Hamilton Harty accompanying. The orchestral score had to wait some seventy years for its first performance when Raphael Wallfisch was soloist with the Ulster Orchestra conducted by Lionel Friend in 1988 at the BBC Northern Ireland studios in Belfast. An uncomplicated and unpretentious piece, the melancholic Ballata with its long singing melodic lines is played here with gentle yearning. The Ballabile is interesting with lots of activity and having the character of a reserved dance. It is gracefully performed with considerable assurance.
Looking at the composition lists in the Dibble and Rodmell Stanford biographies the Irish Concertino for violin, cello and orchestra, Op. 161 from 1918 stands out for its neglect. Performed in 1920 at Bournemouth, a recording of the Irish Concertino would be much welcomed if the score is available.
Cellist Rosefield provides consistently splendid playing and could not have been given more sensitive support than the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under Andrew Manze. Lovers of the late-Romantic should not hesitate with this Hyperion release.
Michael Cookson 

Lovers of the late-Romantic should not hesitate with this Hyperion release.