John STANLEY (1713-1786)
Six Organ Concertos, Op.10
No. 1 in E [8.24]; No. 2 in D [7.48]; No. 3 in B flat [9.05]; No. 4 in C minor [11.45]; No. 5 in A [6.58]; No. 6 in C [8.25]
Northern Sinfonia Orchestra/Gerald Gifford (organ)
rec. Hexham Abbey, Northumberland; no date given
CRD 3365 [53:50]

This, so far as I am aware, is the only recording that has ever been made of these concertos from John Stanley’s final years. Although the composer is fairly well known for his organ music, these concertos were published in 1775 for “organ, harpsichord or fortepiano” and – notwithstanding the obvious wish to appeal to the widest possible market – appear to have sold so badly that only one set of orchestral parts is now known to exist. These parts, in the library of the Marquis of Exeter at Burghley House, Stamford, were used as the basis for this recording, and the cadenzas, Gerald Gifford informs us in his booklet note, were improvised during performance in the proper eighteenth century tradition.

John Stanley was blinded in an accident at the age of two, but still managed to pursue a successful musical career and actually succeeded William Boyce as Master of the King’s Band of Music in 1779. Although these concertos were published late in Stanley’s life, Gifford speculates that they may have been written considerably earlier and cites the wide disparity of styles as evidence for this. The first two concertos, in two movements only (there may possibly have been an improvisation intended between them, in the manner of Bach’s Third Brandenburg Concerto) fall under the influence of baroque models and are positively Handelian in effect. The later concertos in three movements are more classically orientated and look forward to the music of Haydn which so delighted English audiences when the latter visited London towards the end of the century. The Fourth Concerto, over ten minutes long, is a very impressive piece of writing indeed; and one can imagine it being played on a fortepiano to exciting effect, especially the virtuoso Presto finale. This is also the only concerto of the set in the minor key.

Quite apart from the fact that Gifford has presented us with such unfamiliar music which is otherwise unavailable, the performances themselves are excellent both in manner and recording. Ensemble cannot have been easy with the strings being directed from the organ console, but it is clean and crisp enough to provide much pleasure. Separate tracks are provided for individual movements except in the Fifth Concerto. The recording was originally issued on LP in 1980 and its reissue is most welcome.

Paul Corfield Godfrey

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