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The Stanford Legacy
Charles Villiers STANFORD (1852-1924)
Clarinet Sonata Op.129 (1911, arr. viola by Henry Waldo Warner, 1919) [19:14]
Rebecca CLARKE (1886-1979)
Viola Sonata (1919) [23:00]
John IRELAND (1879-1962)
Violin Sonata No.1 (1908-09, rev. 1917/1944, arr. viola by Martin Outram) [26:01]
Martin Outram (viola)
Julian Rolton (piano)
rec. July 2015, Wyastone Hall, Monmouth
NIMBUS NI6334 [68:15]

This Nimbus album titled The Stanford Legacy consists of sonatas by Sir Charles Villiers Stanford and his pupils Rebecca Clarke and John Ireland at the Royal College of Music. Only the Clarke sonata was originally written for the viola; the other two are arrangements of, respectively, clarinet and violin sonatas.

Stanford’s legacy stems mainly from his work as composition professor at the Royal College of Music (RCM), where he and his contemporary Parry were the major influences in British music for almost half a century as composers, conductors, teachers and academics. The importance of Stanford’s role as an educator is quite remarkable and his significant list of students includes Hamish MacCunn, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Frank Bridge, Herbert Howells, Ivor Gurney, E.J. Moeran, Rutland Boughton, Gustav Holst, Rebecca Clarke, John Ireland, Arthur Bliss, Leopold Stokowski and Samuel Coleridge-Taylor.

A prolific composer, Stanford wrote in many genres, including seven symphonies and ten operas. He is often described as the ‘Father of English Choral Music’, being principally remembered today for his contribution to sacred choral music in the Anglican tradition. Stanford, an admirer of the music of the Romantic German/Austrian tradition, often programmed the music of Beethoven, Schumann and Brahms in concert programmes he conducted. As a composer, Stanford’s tonal and conservative music is often described as Brahmsian, containing as it does a well-designed lyricism crammed with colour.

The opening work on the disc is the Stanford Viola Sonata, which Harry Waldo Warner (1874-1945) arranged with Stanford’s permission from the Clarinet Sonata, Op. 129. Stanford completed the score at the end of 1911 and it lies between the widely admired Songs of the Fleet (1910) and the Symphony No. 7 (1912). The Clarinet Sonata is evocative of Brahms’s autumnal clarinet-based chamber scores, written between 1891/94, which Stanford much admired. The arranger Waldo Warner was both a composer and viola player who trained at the London Guildhall School of Music. As a composer, he won fifth prize in the 1905 Cobbett Competition for a Phantasy String Quartet. As a violist, Warner served for a time as first viola in the New Symphony Orchestra and was a member of the renowned London String Quartet during 1908/29. I feel the music works considerably better as a Clarinet Sonata than in its guise as a Viola Sonata, although it’s still an attractive piece. The opening movement, an agreeable Allegro moderato, feels like a tender song of summer sun that at times gives the feeling of having to run for cover during rainstorms. Entitled Caoine, a Gaelic lament, the central movement, marked Adagio (quasi fantasia), contains music of considerable introspection with an undertow of melancholy maybe reflecting the pain of parting. Headed Allegretto grazioso, the concluding movement has a serious edge, an intense yearning quality tinged with sadness.

Rebecca Clarke, a contemporary of Vaughan Williams and Holst, studied for a short time at the Royal Academy of Music before enrolling at the RCM under Stanford between 1907/1910. A viola player who studied privately with Lionel Tertis, Clarke was one of the first female professional orchestral musicians when in 1912 she played in the Queen's Hall Orchestra under Sir Henry Wood. In chamber music Clarke was notable, appearing as a viola soloist and a member of chamber ensembles. As a composer of mainly songs and chamber music, there was some critical success afforded to Clarke in her lifetime. In 1919 Clarke’s Viola Sonata just failed, by the patron’s casting vote, to win first prize at the prestigious Elisabeth Sprague Coolidge Chamber Festival in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Sadly, Clarke was unable to sustain what she called her “little whiff of success.” In 1939 she returned to the USA before the outbreak of war and ended up staying in the country for the rest of her life. In 1944 Clarke married the Scottish-born James Friskin, who had also been a Stanford pupil.

The Viola Sonata commences with a substantial movement marked Impetuoso. Restless and passionate, there is a strong Celtic influence imbued in the writing. In the short central movement, Vivace, I relish the jaunty, colourful dance-like rhythms, which repeatedly change, providing a near exotic feel. Marked Adagio, the lengthy closing movement contains a mysterious yearning quality with a slightly perfumed air. The players impressively build an aching intensity before finding more relaxing episodes of respite. There are several accounts of the Clarke Viola Sonata in the catalogues and I find the most rewarding that by Tabea Zimmermann and Kirill Gerstein, recorded in 2010 at Cologne on Myrios Classics. Impressive, too, is the engaging 1993 recording from Paul Coletti and Leslie Howard on Hyperion Helios CDH55085. Also praiseworthy is the 2004 Wells Cathedral School account from Philip Dukes and Sophia Rahman on Naxos.

As a pupil of Stanford, John Ireland stated that their relationship was often fraught and that he considered his teacher’s methods harsh at times. Ireland certainly came a long way from his early days at the Royal College of Music (1897-1901) when in 1898 his great master said to the then very young student, “All water me bhoy and more water than Brahms… Study some DvořŠk for a bit and bring me something that isn’t like Brahms” (‘Charles Villiers Stanford’ by Paul Rodmell, Ashgate 2002). The rebuke clearly worked, as the product was Ireland’s composition of the precocious and charming Sextet for clarinet, horn and string quartet. Walter Willson Cobbett (1847-1937), an amateur musician and wealthy businessman, created in 1905 a crucial impetus for chamber music composition in England that led to the establishment ‘Phantasy’ chamber music competitions and commissions. Ireland’s breakthrough was winning the 1909 Cobbett Competition for a Sonata for Violin and Piano with his Violin Sonata No. 1. Designed by Ireland in conventional sonata form, Martin Outram’s arrangement for viola and piano works extremely well. The sonata opens with an Allegro leggiadro which is enthrallingly written, at turns inquisitive and contemplative. Next comes a Romance, predominately mellow and agreeable in quality. The concluding movement is a vibrant Rondo that reveals Ireland’s rebellious streak. Of the competing accounts of Ireland’s First Violin Sonata, I have long admired the spirited playing and captivating quality produced by Yfrah Neaman and Eric Parkin, recorded back in 1972 at St. John’s, Smith Square, London on Lyrita.

The Stanford Legacy album was recorded at Wyastone Hall, Monmouth with the engineering team for Nimbus providing realistic clarity and well balanced sound. Martin Outram has written the booklet essay, which is interesting and informative.

Quite splendidly played by Martin Outram and Julian Rolton, lovers of English music will be in their element with this release of viola sonatas.

Michael Cookson

Previous review: Jonathan Woolf



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