Patric STANDFORD (1939-2014)
Symphony No 1 (1972) ‘The Seasons – An English year’ [33.02]
Cello Concerto (1974) [27.18]
Prelude to a Fantasy (1980) ‘The Naiades’ [9.35]
Raphael Wallfisch (cello)
Royal Scottish National Orchestra/David Lloyd-Jones
rec. Henry Wood Hall, Glasgow, 2011 NAXOS 8.571356 [69.56]
Naxos here perform another sterling service to British music with this reissue of a recording originally released by the British Music Society, with a booklet comprising the whole of the original documentation including a personal note by the composer. Patric Standford was known during his lifetime mainly as a teacher and an administrator (he taught at the Guildhall School of Music, and headed the Composers’ Guild of Great Britain for some years) but he also produced a considerable amount of music, mainly to commission, and was also active as a music journalist. Quite a polymath, in fact. His First Symphony was written as a tribute to Sir John Barbirolli, whom he had met as a pre-teenager; and although it was not in fact his first essay in the medium, he describes it in his note as “deserving to be called ‘a first’.”
In fact The Seasons is, to my ears, the least impressive of the three scores on this disc. It was originally scored for strings alone, and the second movement, an adagietto describing Summer which remained in that form, is the best of the four. The opening Spring is rather noisily scored, and the use of a set of variations to describe Winter is not really a satisfactory solution to the “last movement problem” in symphonic form. It makes for an enjoyable suite, but its symphonic credentials remain less obvious. The other two works on this disc, however, make much more of an impact.
The Cello Concerto was written around memories of a holiday in Baden-Baden living in a former residence of Brahms, and pays tribute to that composer with immediately recognisable quotations from the fifth movement of the German Requiem in the final movement. There are also clear tributes to another death-influenced work, Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem, in the pounding bass ostinato which opens the work and returns briefly as a counterpoint to the Brahms quotation towards the end. This concerto has a much more solid ‘feel’ to it, and indeed rises to great emotional heights in places. The central movement is a scherzo which the composer describes as a Mendelssohnian “flight of midsummer madness” conducted “largely in animated pianissimo” but at any rate in the performance here it sounds a little over-heavy and earthbound, more Prokofiev than Mendelssohn. Rafael Wallfisch, to whom the concerto is dedicated and who gave the first performance in 1979 (why the five-year delay?), sparkles where necessary and delivers his plangent lines elsewhere with great assurance and warmth. The recorded balance is excellent.
The Prelude to a Fantasy, with its subtitle The Naiades, is a movement drawn from Standford’s Second Symphony and achieves the Mendelssohnian lightness with greater assurance and ease than the scherzo in the concerto. Indeed, it is the most immediately approachable music on this disc, and also the most immediately enjoyable. There is a featherweight thistledown texture which is absolutely delightful, as well as piquant orchestration; and even a trio section which unexpectedly develops fugally does not hold up the onward rush of the dance-like movement. Here, as elsewhere, there is a slight sense of caution from the orchestra which might have argued the need for a little more rehearsal time (and a little more body from the strings might have been desirable in places), but the recorded sound is excellent and David Lloyd-Jones clearly enjoys the scores. Not, then, an essential addition to a collector’s library of British symphonic works, but an enjoyable one nonetheless.