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Sir Charles Villiers STANFORD (1852-1924)
Piano Trio No. 2 in G minor, Op. 73 (1898/99) [31.15]
Piano Quartet No. 1 in F major, Op. 15 (1879) [30.08]
Gould Piano Trio
David Adams (viola)
rec. 2014, Champs Hill, West Sussex, UK
NAXOS 8.573388 [61.23]

This continues an important Stanford chamber music series for Naxos (review). The same players are certainly no strangers to the music having already recorded the Piano Trio No. 1 in E flat major, Op. 35 and Piano Quartet No. 2 in C minor, Op. 133 in 2009 (review) and the Piano Trio No. 3, Op. 158 in 2006.

It is heartening to see that the Stanford chamber music continues to be recorded. In the last decade or so a reassessment of the composer 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. Naxos can take credit for bringing Stanford’s music to the public’s attention with a number of excellent recordings of the symphonies (1 & Clarinet Concerto ~ 2 & 5 ~ 3 & 6 ~ 4 & 7) ~ unaccompanied sacred music and the Requiem. I have read that the remaining string quartets from Stanford’s set of eight are now being recorded. This leaves primarily the eleven operas to be recorded which seems an increasingly unlikely project in the prevailing economic climate.

The earliest work here is the Piano Quartet No. 1 in F major, Op. 15 that Stanford completed 1879 with a dedication to his friend Ernst Franck a conductor and composer. The same year the work was premièred at Hans Richter’s series of Festival Concerts in London with pianist Xaver Scharwenka, violinist Hermann Franck, violist Benno Hollander and cellist Auguste van Biene. This work is evocative of the Austro/German style of Mendelssohn and also Brahms but without the textural weight. The opening Allegro con brio is upbeat with a squally disposition at times. Next comes the mainly excitable Scherzo with its contrasting central episode of tranquillity. Heartfelt, introspective and agreeable the Poco adagio never becomes too passionate and the determined Finale: Allegro con brio again sports that characteristic squally quality.

Written in the period 1898-99 the Piano Trio No. 2 in G minor, Op. 73 bears a dedication to Stanford’s friends, the Berlin Trio. In fact, the 1899 première was given by the newly-formed London Trio: pianist Amina Goodwin, violinist Theodore Werner and cellist William Whitehouse. Marked Allegro con brio in the Mendelssohnian mood, the opening establishes a sense of cascading movement. The writing is imbued with a warm, near affectionate quality. Tender and verging on the passionate the absorbing and reflective Andante is reminiscent of Brahms. There's also a slight undertow of melancholy. The uplifting Scherzo overflows with ideas and contains some lovely writing which is vibrantly played. The Larghetto introduction to the Finale swiftly switches to Stanford’s distinctive rather impulsive, stormy quality.

The Gould Piano Trio with violist David Adams in the Quartet are clearly well prepared and astutely capture the innate charm of these works. I was stuck by the outstanding playing - consistently engaging, always intelligent and constantly assured. The sound quality although dry is quite acceptable with a splendid balance. The tone of the strings comes close to sour and the piano has a very slight woody quality. Overall I’m sure this late-Romantic music would have benefited from a warmer ambience.

Michael Cookson






 



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