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Penguin Guide, January 2009

David Lloyd-Jones here offers the first of a promised series of all seven Stanford Symphonies No.4, written in 1888, has many Brahmsian touches, particularly in the use of woodwind and horns, but the Irish flavor, with the composer’s acute control of structure sustaining tension well No. 7, written in 1911, when Stanford had been overtaken among British composers, is a lighter, more compact works, with Mendelssohn and Schumann among the influences, and with the same taut control of structure and clear orchestration Lloyd-Jones’s readings may not quite rival in warmth those of Vernon Handley and the Ulster Orchestra on the rival Chandos series, differently coupled, but he compensates in his extra tautness and urgency. Brilliant, clear sound.

Steven Ritter
Audiophile Audition, December 2007

A new Stanford series, and about time—this one promises to be the best.

Vernon Handley’s Ulster Orchestra series of Stanford symphonies has been holding down the fort for a long time now. Chandos released it back in 1994 (with many of the symphonies first recorded in 1992), and the composer has sort of been ignored since then. Maybe it’s because the Handleys were so good, I don’t know. But I do know that I was never that fond of the Chandos echo in those days, so the appearance of this disc, labeled as the first volume of what will be a new set of Stanfordiana, is quite a thrill.

And it should be to the general public as well, for these are outstanding symphonic works, romantic, exquisite, soaring tunes, and thoroughly ingratiating all around. The Ulster Orchestra is certainly no slouch, but the Bournemouth surpasses it in almost every way, and Naxos has given it very fine sound, decently back in the hall but close enough to feel a real impact.

23 years divide these two symphonies, and a lot else besides, as the fourth was in the throes of the Romantic age while the seventh (1922) was well in to the modern one. If you but think of all the things that had happened by then, Stanford’s quirky little Mendelssohnian beauty becomes something of an anachronism in the age of the Second Viennese School and post-Rite of Spring activities. He didn’t care—even his compatriots like Elgar had moved way beyond the music he was interested in writing, and he stuck to his guns with fervor. Lucky for us he did, as this is music that sticks to the soul no matter when it was written. Unlike the bold and vigorous No. 4, No. 7 takes us backwards, not forward, and a pleasant trip it is. But you will also revel in the passion of the romantic fourth as well, and at this price, the prospects of a whole series are worth salivating over. Why delay?

Tim Perry
MusicWeb International, December 2007

This second instalment in the continuing cycle of Ries's piano concertos from Naxos is a disc for your wish-list.

Ries is more famous today for being Beethoven's pupil and biographer than for his own career in music. In his day he ranked with Hummel and, yes, even with Beethoven himself as one of Europe's greatest composer-pianists. Thanks to the efforts of Naxos and Allan Badley's Artaria Editions, we can now hear for ourselves what it was that so excited nineteenth century audiences.

All three works here show Ries to be a composer of originality, though one with a respect for his musical forebears. It would go too far to call him daring or revolutionary. Nonetheless, despite the backward glances at Mozart, his facility for contrasting grand orchestral statements with piano writing of a free, rhapsodic lyricism bridges the gap between Beethoven on the one hand and Chopin and Schumann on the other.

The Swedish National Air with Variations opens with a proud and darkly coloured orchestral flourish, which is immediately contrasted with a gently glittering statement from the piano. This pattern of contrasts is repeated throughout the 15 minutes of this piece, as Ries plies his skill at conjuring variations, first dazzling, then soulful. He casts the orchestra as chorus rather than as equal partner in dialogue, but he knows how to use its tone colours – listen to the lovely clarinet commentary about five minutes in, for example.

The Piano Concerto in C sharp minor is a delightful work, written largely on the road as Ries toured and then fled Russia in 1812. It is natural to want to draw comparisons with Beethoven's C minor concerto of 12 years earlier, but similarities are few and comparisons unhelpful. Apart from a few blustery tuttis, Ries uses the minor mode to spice harmonies and lend interest rather than to generate Beethovenian drama. The material is predominantly lyrical but virtuosic in the outer movements. The central slow movement lasts for less than five minutes, but is the heart of the concerto. Here Ries'sw gentle lyricism calls for a Chopinesque rubato and lightness of touch. His writing for orchestra, though, is better than Chopin's and full of interesting details and colourings.

The Introduction and Polonaise may have been composed 21 years after the other two pieces in this programme, but it demonstrates a remarkable consistency in Ries's idiom across the years. This piece is full of Mozartean turns of phrase, but with harmonic touches that point to Schumann. Again, there is some charming writing for the clarinets and flutes as they comment on the piano's discourse.

The Austrian pianist Christopher Hinterhuber plays with commitment and is a fine advocate for these works, just as able to command attention with flashes of fire as he is to lead the ear through the most delicate figurations. Grodd and the Gävle Symphony Orchestra support him well enough, though there is a little raggedness in the upper registers of the violins towards the close of the Introduction and Polonaise. The recorded sound is fine and the booklet notes by Allan Badley are interesting, though they hint at but do not explain the reconstruction of the score of the C sharp minor concerto.

All up, this disc offers you satisfying performances of satisfying music. How can you refuse?

American Record Guide, October 2007

Flourishing in England at about the same time as Chadwick and the New England School in this country, the Dublin-born (but German­trained) Sir Charles Villiers Stanford was not only a highly respected if irascible mentor, numbering among his students Vaughan Williams, Holst and Moeran, but also a prolific composer in all musical forms-among them seven symphonies as well as concertos for piano, violin, clarinet, and cello. He was of course among England's leading choral composers and certainly paved the way for Elgar, among others. Indeed, he supported Elgar's music early on, even requesting that it be played at the yearly Leeds Festivals; nevertheless he came in for his share of disdain from Elgar, who had no use for "academics" in general and Stanford in particular. Nor was it entirely without foundation that some critics, skimming the surface of his remarkable output, charged him with merely recycling Brahms and dismissed his music as lacking originality at a time when British composers were finally breaking their ties to the continent. We may not be surprised to find in Stanford's music echoes of Schumann, Mendelssohn, even Dvofak, yet colored by Irish folk song both fondly remembered and wholly original. He could scarcely have foreseen that his greatest legacy would be a generation of gifted younger composers who would carry the banner of British music in a whole new direction.

So enthusiastically heralded was Stanford's Third Symphony (Irish), given at the Crystal Palace in 1887-it remains his most popular symphony-that it should come as no surprise that 4, completed the following year, failed to live up to expectations, achieving no more than a succes d'estime. To be sure, part of this lukewarm response may have reflected the composer's half-hearted attempt to append a "program" of sorts-more of a motto, actually-"Thro' Youth to Strife, Thro' Death to Life" much in the manner of the lines from Lamartine generally (if erroneously) associated with Les Preludes. But Stanford himself seems to have had second thoughts about this "program" and in fact later suppressed it. The Naxos notes make no mention of it.

Certainly "Youth" is much in evidence in the ebullient opening movement, marked Allegro vivace e giojoso; at the same time, there is much that is reminiscent of Brahms, though nowhere approaching the outright "steal" from the Brahms Fourth that informs the slow movement of the Irish Symphony; one might just as likely be reminded of the early symphonies of Dvofak. Of "Strife" there seems relatively little in II, an intermezzo marked Allegretto agitato (ma moderato). where Stanford drew on his music for Sophocles's Oedipus Rex; yet I couldn't help noting a motif similar to Glazounov's Salome. The Andante molto moderato (III) is laden with sorrow, though the listener is unlikely to discern the "intense tragic vein" claimed in the Chandos notes. The finale certainly does not suggest any sort of fixation with the afterlife; indeed, it's buoyant and carefree, with influences now shifting to Mendelssohn and Schubert, most notably the opening motif that calls to mind Schubert's overture to Alfonso und Estrella. There's an air of light banter about it that suggests Raff, or perhaps Brahms in a rare jocular vein (the Academic Festival Overture).

Annotator Richard Whitehouse reminds us that by the time Stanford completed his Seventh and last symphony in 1911-24 years after the highly popular Irish-he had already been left far behind not only by Elgar but also by his own students. He suggests that in spite of, or even perhaps because of this that Stanford seems to have saved his most affectionate homage to Mendelssohn for last. At the age 0 60 he took great pleasure in writing a full­blown symphony that would take less than half an hour to perform.

While suggesting no specific "Irish" connotations, one may detect an amiable kinship between the "dappled strings" (to use Foreman's apt description) that open the piece and the rustling motif heard at the start of Amy Beach's Gaelic Symphony; the echoes of Brahms and Dvofak that follow are surely no strangers to Stanford's music, yet despite a vigorous workout the movement ends quietly with a reminder of the opening string motif. if the gently undulating Minuet (II) with its wistful melody might seem too sentimental to jaded modern ears, few could remain unmoved by its delicacy and grace.

With Naxos we pause ever so briefly between the 5th variation of III (Allegro molto moderato) and what then becomes the final! (Allegro non troppo), whereas Chandos con· siders it all one long Variations and Finale, the hitherto unassuming theme finally becoming bold and brazen until not even the return 0: the "dappled strings" heard in the opening measures can sway the headstrong brasses from their course to the resolute and sonorous final bars.

The Chandos recordings of Stanford's symphonies by the Ulster Orchestra under Vernon Handley were warmly welcomed in these pages when they came out some 15 to 20 years ago (4: July/Aug 1991, 7: Jan/Feb 1991) and it's gratifying to find they hold their own remarkably well against this highly anticipated challenge from Naxos. Both gentlemen respond with healthy vigor and genial warmth to the opening sally of 4; if Lloyd-Jones flows more smoothly in the Intermezzo—with Handley perhaps more mindful of the "moderato"—clearly both see the Andante as the emotional center of the symphony and allow the discourse to unfold naturally and seamlessly. In the finale Handley trips along smartly enough, but Lloyd-Jones invests the gay banter with a bit more irrepressible spirit. Again Handley is a little more expansive in the opening movement of 7 and noticeably broader in the Minuet; but really, given two performances of such surpassing excellence a final choice seems quite immaterial (with Chandos you also get two of Stanford's glorious Irish Rhapsodies). And that applies to the Ulster and Bournemouth orchestras and the warm, spacious sound of both recordings.

Scott Cantrell
The Dallas Morning News, June 2007

EMINENT VICTORIAN: By the time he died in 1924, Sir Charles Villiers Stanford was considered an ancient relic of Victoriana. But the famously cranky Irishman had been a distinguished teacher of composers including Vaughan Williams and Holst, not to mention a prolific composer.

NATURAL TUNEFULNESS: A generation older than Strauss and Rachmaninoff, Stanford never really abandoned idioms inherited from Dvorák, Brahms, Schumann and Mendelssohn. But his craftsmanship was impeccable, allied to a natural tunefulness.

STRONG, GRACEFUL: The symphonies paired here are real beauties, strong yet graceful. The Fourth, dating from 1889, is a substantive work worthy of a place alongside Dvorák's symphonies; the slow movement's transition from tragedy to affirmation is quite striking. The 1911 Seventh, Stanford's last, is shorter and lighter in both texture and emotion, a charmer more in the manner of Brahms' serenades.

BOTTOM LINE: Wonderful late offshoots of the rich 19th-century Austro-German symphonic tradition, lovingly performed and resonantly recorded.

Rick Jones
Classic FM, June 2007

Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/Lloyd-Jones Stanford at his best in the small scale. The grand gestures tend towards stodge despite lean strings and expressive woodwind.

Gramophone, June 2007

David Lloyd-Jones launches his new Stanford symphony cycle for Naxos with a credible pairing of Nos 4 and 7. Berlin hosted the 1889 premiere of the Fourth, and approachable and solidly constructed edifice bearing a family resemblance to Brahms and Dvořák. Stanford bade farewell to the genre in 1991 with this compact Seventh, scored with a luminous assurance worthy of Mendelssohn (whose spirit this mellifluous music most often evokes).

There's stiff competition from Handley on Chandos but Lloyd-Jones draws playing of no mean polish and commitment from the Bournemouth SO, which augurs well for future instalments.

Christopher Howell
MusicWeb International, May 2007

Following its première in 1887, Stanford’s Third Symphony, the “Irish”, achieved an international success which is difficult even to imagine today, when anybody wishing to hear it has to hunt down one of the two recordings – soon to be joined by a third if no mishaps befall this new cycle. Its favourable reception in Germany led to Stanford’s being invited to conduct a concert of his music with the Berlin Philharmonic in January 1889. The principal offering was his specially composed Fourth Symphony. So far as I am aware he remains the only British composer to have conducted a one-man concert in Berlin. However, if he hoped it would become an annual event, this was not to be, though he returned in 1895 to conduct more British music, not all of it by himself. The Fourth Symphony was very warmly received. Nevertheless, for as long as a Stanford symphony remained in the international repertoire – at least until the First World War – it remained the “Irish”.

Though Stanford did not call the work his “German Symphony” he might well have done, for it contains some neatly inserted references to his hosts as well as a motto paraphrased from Goethe’s “Faust”: “Thro’ Youth to Strife, Thro’ Death to Life”. This motto aroused some perplexity as to how it actually fitted the music and Stanford later withdrew it. Strangely, the writer of the Naxos liner-notes, Richard Whitehouse, ignores the issue altogether.

Under the circumstances the clear reference in the opening theme to the F-A-F motto used by Brahms, most notably in his Third Symphony, can hardly be a coincidence, though no other commentator has ever pointed it out to my knowledge. It fits the programme too well: “Freie aber Frohe”, “Free but happy”, the motto of innocent youth. The resemblance of the second theme to the first of Brahms’s “Liebeslieder Walzer” op.52 has been remarked, but its significance becomes plain only in the light of the F-A-F motive; the young man’s freedom has to come to turns with the burgeoning of love. Treated now tenderly, now passionately, the love theme is often interrupted quite brutally by the F-A-F motive, until in a final accelerando the love music gets the better of it. All this is absorbed into a masterly use of classical form, making for a movement which sidles in with apparent innocence but proves to have considerable range.

Aside from the programmatic significance, the use of this theme may have been a sort of “thank you” gesture to his German hosts, since it was in Germany that Stanford had met Jennie Wetton, by now his wife. When he returned to Berlin in 1895 he brought with him his First Piano Concerto, which contained a further allusion to the “Liebeslieder Walzer” theme. It may seem curious, or even improbable, that Stanford should have gone to the trouble to insert in major works such cross-references, the definite interpretation of which he only knew himself. The nearest to a systematic discussion of Stanford’s use of quotation would appear to remain my own, available on this site, though more recent commentators such as Jeremy Dibble (“Charles Villiers Stanford: Man and Musician”, Oxford 2002) and Paul Rodmell (“Charles Villiers Stanford”, Ashgate 2002) have obviously remarked on the existence of a number of cases.

Vernon Handley’s pioneering recording (Chandos) and David Lloyd-Jones’s new one take very similar views of this movement, brisk but unhurried in the F-A-F-inspired theme, relaxing without indulgence in the love music. However, I find that Lloyd-Jones has a fraction more lift to the phrasing at the beginning and is a tiny bit more affectionate with the lyrical moments. Phrase by phrase there’s little in it, but over the span of the movement I find Lloyd-Jones more engaging. It also helps that he, or his engineers, avoid moments of brass-heaviness which sometimes beset Handley. Much has been said about Chandos’s love of reverberant, brassy sound, but I also sense that Lloyd-Jones himself is more cunning about giving the brass their head when they have thematic material but marking them down when they haven’t.

The first part of the Intermezzo was lifted bodily from Stanford’s recent incidental music for “Oedipus Tyrannus”. To this he added a central trio, mostly for strings only, concluding with a revised and abbreviated version of the “Oedipus Tyrannus” music. We shall never know for sure whether this was a ploy to meet a deadline, but since the Intermezzo originally represented the moment when storm-clouds appeared on the horizon for the house of Oedipus it certainly fitted the programme. With its restless chromatic lines it is a haunting creation and it is understandable that the composer wished it to be heard more widely. Moreover, the Berlin concert also included the Prelude to “Oedipus” so Stanford may have had some further hidden agenda linking the works.

The performance of this movement brings a problem. The original Intermezzo was marked “Allegretto agitato” – the Naxos track-list erroneously has “Allegro” – to which Stanford added “(ma moderato in tempo)” in the Symphony. By no stretch of the imagination can Handley’s performance be considered more than “Andante” and there is not a trace of agitation. The music simply sits there, stagnating. It is a tribute to its inherent strength that it still retains a modicum of sense.

Lloyd-Jones is fractionally faster – half a minute shorter overall – though in the trio his tempo sounds identical to Handley’s. This is already enough to improve matters, and by digging into the viola counter-phrases at the beginning he allows a trace of agitation to ruffle the surface. Taken in isolation it is in fact very beautiful, with a sort of misty sadness. But you can’t take a symphonic movement in isolation. There’s a long slow movement to follow and the Symphony is made to have two slow movements. Not surprisingly Paul Rodmell, presumably basing himself on the Handley recording, has remarked that the Symphony “sags seriously in the middle”. I am quite convinced it needn’t do so. Unfortunately Lloyd-Jones, by marking Handley’s “Andante” up to an “Andantino” – definitely no more than that – can only be said to have attenuated the results of a wrong decision. For what it’s worth, I have taken the vocal score of “Oedipus” to the piano and played the Intermezzo at what might normally be considered an “Allegretto”, and I have studied the orchestral score, and I see no reason why Stanford’s clear directions cannot be followed. There was less personal interpretation of tempo markings in the 1880s than there is today; “Allegretto” meant for Stanford the same thing as it did for Brahms and I should be interested to hear Handley or Lloyd-Jones try to conduct the Intermezzo of Brahms’s First Symphony at the “Allegretto” tempo they think right for Stanford.

Stanford’s “Death” movement opens with what sounds like operatic recitative from the violins. Though it sounds very free it is actually worked out as a fugue. This leads to a funeral march which includes some notable proto-Elgarian phrases. In a major-key episode the recitative theme is transfigured to suggest a vision of the after-life. There are some powerful climaxes and towards the end of this very fine movement there is a premonition of the rising motive which is to dominate the finale.

Both performances rise to the occasion. However, in the tranquil major-key episode Lloyd-Jones gives the wind-players more space to phrase with the result that the adaptation of the recitative theme sounds natural whereas with Handley it seems a little forced.

The finale undertakes the impossible task of depicting life after death. It caused some puzzlement with contemporary commentators and it is probably for this reason that Stanford preferred to suppress the programme. He would seem to have taken his cue from the final words of “Oedipus”: “Therefore, while our eyes wait to see the destined final day, we must call no on

David Denton
David's Review Corner, April 2007

The beginning of a new and important cycle of symphonies from Charles Villiers Stanford, the most important figure in the British music renaissance at the end of the nineteenth century. Though born in Ireland in 1852, he moved from Dublin to be educated in England and was to remain there for much of his life. It was, however, in Germany that his mature music studies had taken place, and it was to be Brahms and his contemporaries that influenced much of his music. His place of importance eventually came in 1883 when appointed the first professor of composition at London's newly created Royal College of Music. That some of his pupils, including Gustav Holst, were to follow in his Germanic footsteps, it was his remaining pupils, Vaughan Williams, Bridge and Butterworth who were eventually to reject his influence and became the new generation of English national composers. Ironically it was to be their success that saw the demise of interest in their mentor's output. Initially he had worked in the field of church music, but was to write in every genre including ten operas and seven symphonies. In the UK his music is presently enjoying a revival, his choral works and symphonies once again reappearing in the concert hall. True there is Brahms and Schumann hovering in the background, but as you will fined in the Fourth, it is full of strong and often dramatic thematic material and, in the third movement, just a hint of Elgar yet to come. By the time the Seventh appeared in 1911 he was totally out of touch with current trends, and opted for the lightness of Mendelssohn, each of the four movements quite short, the scherzo of touching tenderness. In David Lloyd-Jones the music has found a passionate advocate, his understanding of British music quite unsurpassed among present day conductors. He draws warm and responsive playing from the Bournemouth orchestra, the recording opening up the texture to expose much inner detail. Fervently recommended.

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