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Sir Charles Villiers STANFORD (1852-1924)
The Complete Organ Works - Volume 2
Fantasia and Fugue in D minor, Op.103 (1907) [10:33]
Six Preludes and Postludes, Set 1, Op.101 (1907) [16:05]
Sonata No.3 ‘Brittanica’ in D minor, Op.152 (1917) [27:42]
In Modo Dorico, Op.132 (1913) [4;40]
Prelude on ‘Jesu dulcis memoria’ (1879 - ed. Richard Barnes) [3:41]
Te Deum Laudamus – Fantasia Op.116 No.1 (ca 1909) [7:46]
Daniel Cook (organ)
rec. Durham Cathedral, 7, 9, 10 April 2013
PRIORY PRCD1106 [71:37]

I know and admire quite a lot of Stanford’s music, primarily his orchestral and vocal pieces, but I have to confess that his organ music has rather passed me by. I was somewhat relieved, therefore, to find that I’m not alone in this. My colleague, John France, who is very well versed in Stanford’s music and in British music generally, made a similar admission when he reviewed Volume 1 of Daniel Cook’s projected survey of Stanford’s complete output for the instrument. There has been a very welcome reawakening of interest in Stanford’s music in the last twenty-odd years – at least on CD - so it’s high time that his organ music received its due.

The booklet essay is by the leading expert on Stanford – and Parry – Jeremy Dibble, and he points out in his opening sentence that the organ “always remained a central feature of Stanford’s career as a composer and practical musician.” Much of his early training was as a church organist in Dublin and then he made a name for himself as Organist of St John’s College, Cambridge (1873-1892). Indeed, in 1870 he had become the first organ scholar at Cambridge University when he was admitted to Queen’s College. One of the pieces on Daniel Cook’s programme, the Prelude on ‘Jesu dulcis memoria’ comes from Stanford’s first years at St John’s but the rest of the selection dates from rather later in his career.

Volume 1 of this series (review), which I have yet to hear, included the first two of Stanford’s five sonatas for organ, both of which were written in 1917. The Third Sonata is the centrepiece of this volume and mightily impressive it proves to be. Jeremy Dibble sets the piece firmly in context for us. It was composed towards the end of 1917 when the conduct of World War I was going badly. One can imagine that Stanford, like Parry, must have been affected by the news of so many bright former pupils at the Royal College of Music either dying or being wounded at the Front and, as Prof. Dibble says, the sonata “was conceived as a recognition of Britain’s sacrifice.” The first movement is based on an old hymn tune, ‘St Mary’ which had become associated with a Lenten hymn ‘O Lord, turn not Thy face from me’. The music is powerful and emotionally charged, even when the dynamics recede somewhat. Though there are some passages of relative repose the music seems almost always to be restless. Stanford’s writing has lots of energy and forward momentum.

The middle movement has the title ‘Benedictus’. Dibble describes it as “very much a prayer”. I wonder if it’s a prayer for the fallen. It might be, though it doesn’t sound to be founded in grief; maybe it’s a prayer for peace. Much of the movement is subdued and reflective though there is a more animated section (3:32-6:41) where the music is less inward-looking. Indeed, in this section there are even hints of martial grandeur. However, Stanford then reverts to the mood and material of the opening pages. The finale is based on the eighteenth-century hymn tune which by Stanford’s day was used for the hymn ‘O, worship the King, all glorious above’. The choice of tune – and the association of the words – seems to evidence resolution and determination on the composer’s part to ‘see it through’. The movement is athletic and purposeful. This sonata is a fine piece and it receives a terrific performance at the hands and feet of Daniel Cook.

The programme opens with the Fantasia and Fugue in D minor. The Fantasia is imposing and wide-ranging while the Fugue (from 6:12) is extensive and inventive. It’s something of a surprise when the work ends not only with non-fugal music but quite quietly. The recital ends with the Te Deum Laudamus Fantasia which was composed a couple of years later. This is based on the incantation of the ancient hymn, which we hear at the start in the pedals. The piece has a big, confident opening which gives way to a more relaxed, fluent central episode. The reversion to the opening material heralds a sonorous, commanding ending in which the pedals are majestically deployed.

The remainder of the programme consists of less ambitious compositions. The set of Six Preludes & Postludes was entrusted to the newly established publishing house of Stainer and Bell. Stanford was, apparently, very supportive of this new venture and they published a lot of his music thereafter. These Preludes & Postludes were clearly designed to be of practical use to church organists. They’re good pieces on a modest scale. They include a pleasing pastoral (No. 1); a robust Allegro non troppo e pesante which would be a good, short recessional piece (No. 2); and two well-worked pieces based on old Irish church melodies (Nos. 5 and 6).

In Modo Dorico is an arrangement, presumably by Stanford, of one of his Characteristic Pieces Op. 132 for piano. Jeremy Dibble refers to the music’s “touching solemnity and nobility.” The ending is actually quite imposing. I see that in his review of Vol 1 John France cited the Fantasia and Toccata in D minor, Op 57 (1894) as the earliest organ work in Stanford’s catalogue. On that basis and since the composer didn’t assign an opus number to it I infer that Prelude on ‘Jesu dulcis memoria’ has lain unpublished until edited by Richard Barnes. If that’s the case then it’s a bit of a surprise because it’s a rather good miniature.

As I hope I’ve made clear, there’s some very worthwhile music in this programme; the Sonata is particularly worthy of investigation - and not just by organ buffs. Hearing this disc has made me, as an admirer of Stanford, keen to seek out Vol 1.

The music receives splendid advocacy from Daniel Cook. He recorded the previous disc on the organ of Salisbury Cathedral, an instrument with which he was very familiar from his time as Assistant Director of Music there. For this second instalment he has, as it were, returned to his musical roots for it was at Durham Cathedral that he received his earliest musical education. The Durham organ was built in 1876/77 by Henry “Father” Willis. It was substantially rebuilt by Harrison and Harrison in 1905 and that firm has since carried out three further major rebuilds or refurbishments. It’s a mighty instrument but Daniel Cook also shows here that the makers have made it capable of no little subtlety. As recorded by Neil Collier it makes a very fine impression.

This series will come to be an important part of Stanford’s representation on CD.

John Quinn


 

 




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