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Sir Charles Villiers STANFORD (1852-1924)
Concert Overture (1870) [7:48]
Violin Concerto in D (1875) [36:59]
Piano Concerto in B flat (1873) [24:58]
Leon McCawley (piano)
Sergey Levitin (violin)
Royal Northern Sinfonia/Martin Yates
rec. Hall One, Sage Gateshead, UK, 2017

Dutton Vocalion now let us hear early works written during Stanford's sapling years between ages 18 and 28. In that sense these first recordings parallel another Dutton special - the one coupling Cyril Scott's unnumbered prentice concertos for piano and cello, although those date from the 1900s. There were to be two other numbered violin concertos (First; Second) from Stanford and three for piano (First; Second; Third). I should also mention the Cello Concerto. The Clarinet Concerto gave Stanford a presence even during the extended darkness that for years suffocated pretty well all of his music apart from the cathedral choral works. There are quite a few other concertante works which he did not call 'concerto' and these include the two (Nos. 3 and 6) of the six Irish Rhapsodies.

Stanford's generic title for the Overture does this smiling piece of Brahmsian sunlight less than justice. Its ideas and lines are suave while the tempo is middlingly fleet. There's little storm here - more Haydn Variations than Tragic Overture, if I can push the Hamburg composer connection. Stanford dispenses Olympian light and contentment. That self-possessed mien brims over into the articulate and curvaceous fluency of the three-movement Violin Concerto. This pre-dates the Brahms concerto by three years but shares some of its determined lyrical character. Sergey Levitin is utterly secure and captures the colours of this music in pages veined in wine red and aureate carnelian. The finale is chirpy and good-humoured in the manner of a work dating from three decades earlier: the Mendelssohn Concerto. It ends with a cheeky companionable cheerfulness. Levitin has already shown his mettle in Dutton's pioneering work for the concertos by Steinberg, Bortkiewicz (CDLX7323) and Widor and I hope we will hear more from him.

The short and romantically cooling Piano Concerto is redolent in general terms of the Schumann Concerto. In concert it would make a nice adjunct to either of Schumann's bipartite pieces for piano and orchestra (opp. 92 and 134). Leon McCawley makes hay with this delightful if low-key work which would have fitted comfortably into Hyperion's Romantic Piano Concerto series. It's in pretty much the same agreeable if unassuming constituency. I suspect a great deal of work went into preparing the performance materials for this project. Such preparatory slog does not guarantee musical joys at the end of the creative tunnel but this time they are there.

The Dutton recording is forthright and the performances from everyone are a spirited delight - no hint of dutiful gap-filling, not even in the Piano Concerto. Examples are not in short supply but the golden Schumann-like tones of the brass are notable, especially in the first movement of the Violin Concerto. Perhaps subtler still are the pleasing velvet sounds of the French horns at the start of the finale.

Chris Howell's articles on Stanford and the Piano and the Concertos are well worth reading, as of course is Jeremy Dibble's similarly authoritative liner-note for Dutton.

Dutton, Chris Yates, the Royal Northern Sinfonia (their first time with Dutton, I wonder), McCawley, Levitin and Dibble can take a collective bow. Early works, but this makes a solidly enjoyable addition to the Stanford shelf.

Rob Barnett

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