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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

Stanford completed his large-scale Violin Concerto in D in September 1875 after which he showed it to Joachim in Leipzig, but there seems to have been no performance and this is its world premiere recording; it’s not to be confused with the Concerto in D major, Op.74 that Stanford composed for Arbos in 1899 and which can be found on Hyperion.

In a brief aside in his book on the composer, Paul Rodmell dismisses this early work as melodically undistinguished. Whilst it can be rather discursive and has yet to approach the level of architectural and thematic sophistication of later works it does, however, enshrine a buoyant and fresh-air spirit. The opening movement can’t quite sustain its sixteen-minute length but its Schumannesque inheritance proves valuable in terms of the movement’s rhapsodic elements. And if, in the end, there is something a little dogged and foursquare about the writing, the solo themes are invariably attractive and worth a listen. That’s also true of the central movement where the solo soliloquies are vibrant, and the Wagnerian brass stentorian. Of the larky finale there’s perhaps less to say; it’s a competently structured Rondo but proves a somewhat underwhelming ending, never quite clinching the deal, as it were.

A couple of years earlier Stanford had completed a Piano Concerto in B flat and this work did, at least, receive a hearing or two at the time. It’s a much more backward-looking affair than the companion Violin Concerto, stylistically, and throughout one can hear echoes of his great compatriot, John Field. Thus, there’s plenty of filigree and ripe romantic elements and not a few attractive orchestral counter-themes. With a Fieldian Nocturne as a central movement, a refined patina that does get rather livelier later, one is assured elegance. And a brassy marche militaire of a finale ensures that the audience leaves with a spring in its step, although once again that concerto finale conundrum is not really resolved satisfactorily.

The final work is the Concert Overture, the work of the 18-year-old Stanford and its confident handling and thematic incident alike carry the corpuscles of Weber.

Jeremy Dibble’s booklet note is characteristically informed. The highly effective performances were recorded in the Sage, Gateshead, with Sergey Levitin and Leon McCawley excelling in their solo responsibilities. Martin Yates produced the performing editions of all three works and he invariably conducts with authority. The name of the Royal Northern Sinfonia sports a weirdly angled ‘N’ in Northern: something quietly subversive going on, I suppose. Nothing subversive in the music – but engaging and direct pleasures.

Jonathan Woolf

Previous review: Rob Barnett


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