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The Tenor Diaries, March 2008

David Lloyd-Jones leads his Bournemouth charges in a taut, well paced performance. The romantic nature of the music is taken seriously, yet Lloyd-Jones never indulges in overt sentimentality, always keeping up a steady, even, forward line. The orchestra sounds warm and rich, particularly in movements two and four, and there is some superior playing from the orchestra’s winds. Of particular merit is the second movement lento, in which Lloyd-Jones sets a most lovely tone, bathing us in sound akin to the perfect swim; in waters that are the perfect temperature. There is plenty of energy in the resounding last movement, all delivered with the appropriate English restraint…The Bournemouth pull this music out of their instruments at the perfect degree of tension, sending the listener up one mountain summit after another, wrapped in an exquisitely woven blanket of sound. The work ends with a confident final movement marked by an underpinning of pulsating string figures capped by soaring and hopeful melodies.

For those of you who enjoy the work of the German romantics, you will most likely find this music most enjoyable. While it is quite a bit less ponderous than its German cousins, it still contains enough gravitas to satisfy the musical soul searcher, yet veers often enough into a light-hearted realm that seekers of beautiful melodies will leave just as happy.

Christopher Howell
MusicWeb International, January 2008

"If you like romantic symphonies, and I don’t only mean British ones, do give this disc a try. In view of Lloyd-Jones’s clear superiority in "L’Allegro ed il Penseroso", my very slight preference for Handley in the less important "Elegiac" Symphony may be virtually brushed aside."

John Quinn
MusicWeb International, December 2007

Hot on the heels of the first volume of the projected Naxos Stanford symphony cycle (see review) comes Volume Two, which again features David Lloyd-Jones at the helm of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra.

The Second symphony was premièred, under the composer’s baton, in Cambridge in 1882 and there’s a passing link with the subsequent première of the Fourth symphony in Berlin. In that latter concert Joseph Joachim was the soloist in Stanford’s Suite for Violin and Orchestra. Joachim also participated in the Cambridge concert of 1882, playing the Brahms concerto on that occasion. Following the first performance in 1882 there was another airing of the Second symphony at the Gloucester Three Choirs Festival in the following year. However, in his notes for Vernon Handley’s 1991 recording, Lewis Foreman states that he had been unable to trace any further performances until 1990, when the Ulster Orchestra gave it, presumably as a precursor to the Handley recording for Chandos.

The symphony bears the title ‘Elegiac’ and Stanford prefaced the score with four stanzas from Tennyson’s poem, In Memoriam. However, I’m bound to say that I find it hard to detect any elegiac tone in the music itself. The first movement is marked Allegro appassionato. It’s a vigorous movement in which one feels the music is moving forward pretty constantly, culminating in a dramatic coda.

The main theme of the second movement, a Largo espressivo, is rightly described by annotator Richard Whitehouse, as “both graceful and expressive.” This is rather lovely music, which consistently displays a singing quality. This is followed by a genuine scherzo. The outer sections of this quite short movement display a drive that is Beethoven-like. In between is encased a brief lyrical trio but it’s noticeable that even here the timpani maintain the rhythmic pulse underneath the music, albeit quietly, for much of the time.

The finale opens with an adagio introduction that has a decidedly Brahmsian feel. Once the main allegro is reached that section opens with some delightful wind writing after which the music surges along with no little purpose. This finale has genuine drive and momentum and it builds to a jubilant coda in which, once again, I hear the influence of Brahms.

The Fifth symphony dates from 1894 and Stanford drew his inspiration from two poems by John Milton (1608-1674). He inscribed several stanzas from each in the score and, helpfully, Naxos include these verses in the English version of the booklet notes.

The principal subject of the first movement, ushered in by the woodwind at 1:45, is rather jolly. However, there had been quite a degree of urgency to the brief introduction and this urgency remains as a kind of background presence underpinning the essential joviality of the movement as a whole. The music has constant vitality and is fresh and enjoyable to hear. For the second movement Stanford follows the precedent of Brahms by writing an intermezzo, which bears the Brahmsian indication Allegretto grazioso. Lewis Foreman described this movement in his note for the Chandos-Handley recording as “a gently pastoral minuet”. That’s not quite how it comes across in this present performance, however. Lloyd-Jones adopts a slightly faster speed than Handley – he takes 6:28 against Handley’s 6:56 – and thereby gives the music quite a different character. I wouldn’t presume to say which approach is better. To be truthful, I think both work in their own way though I have a marginal preference for the way the movement goes in Handley’s hands. The bottom line is that both conductors are successful in bringing out the genial character of the music.

The third movement, Andante molto tranquillo, was inspired by Il penseroso. Richard Whitehouse describes this movement as “searching” and I agree. It begins with some fine, expansive string writing, which is gradually enriched by the addition of woodwind and horns. This is Stanford at his noble, expansive best. At 3:47 Stanford introduces new material, with flute and clarinet appropriately to the fore as he responds to Milton’s lines about the nightingale, beginning “Sweet bird that shunn’st the noise of folly.” This material is developed for a while until, after a majestic passage for brass (around 6:00) the opening lyrical material returns, but this time in even richer guise and it’s with this that Stanford brings a most impressive movement to a close.

There’s a strange opening to the finale, featuring quiet, stabbing chords. At 0:33 a restless melody in dotted rhythm appears, first on the strings and then taken up by the winds but the music doesn’t really seem to get into its stride until about 1:20. As the movement unfolds the tone becomes more assertive though those stabbing chords keep cropping up. The last of Milton’s stanzas quoted by Stanford begins “There let the pealing organ blow” and Stanford does indeed add an organ to the orchestral palette (at 8:10) though its initial entry is quiet, just gently underpinning the orchestra. At 10:34 the full orchestra and organ intone a majestic chorale and one thinks that this is the Big Finish. Not so. The music winds down and Stanford brings the movement instead to a rich, luminous but quiet conclusion, which I find very satisfying and which aptly echoes Milton’s words:

Dissolve me into ecstasies,
And bring all Heav’n before mine eyes.

It’s not easy to place these two symphonies. Neither is the equal of Elgar’s symphonies but they are far from negligible and these admirable performances under the convincing leadership of David Lloyd-Jones confirm that they do not deserve the neglect into which they have fallen. Lloyd-Jones obtains fine playing from the Bournemouth orchestra and, as with the previous issue in this series, they have been accorded warm yet detailed sound.

This is another distinguished instalment in this Stanford cycle. Vernon Handley’s pioneering set (Chandos) is most certainly not displaced but these Naxos recordings, and this latest one in particular, can stand proudly shoulder to shoulder beside them. Collectors who bought the earlier issue of the Fourth and Seventh symphonies should not hesitate to add this companion volume to their shelves. More please!

David Denton
David's Review Corner, October 2007

By birth Charles Villiers Stanford was Irish, his English parents at the time living in Dublin, though as a teenager he was back in England as a student at Cambridge University where, instead of studying law as his father intended, he chose a career in music. Highly regarded as an organist in his younger years, he turned to composition and moved to study in Leipzig and subsequently in Berlin. Returning to Cambridge he was appointed Professor of Composition, and soon afterwards took the same position at the newly created Royal College of Music in London. It was the emergence of Edward Elgar and the international success he enjoyed as a native composer that created the widely held belief that there could have been nothing of value produced in England during the previous two centuries, a sentiment that sadly killed off the music of Stanford and his contemporaries. Central to Stanford's output is the seven symphonies covering the greater part of his career, yet they were to carry the stigma that he imitated Mendelssohn, Schumann and Brahms. The Second dates from 1880 - and if you put that into a time zone it came as Brahms had begun writing symphonies. It is headed by a quote from Tennyson's In Memoriam, though the music suggests no such sentiment. It is a score strong in melodic content and with a powerful finale, and with a generally congenial atmosphere. After its initial two performances it remained unheard until the 1990's. The Third and Fourth symphonies brought him much success, and it seemed that he now had to write a 'big' work. He chose a programme for the work built on two of Milton's poems L'Allegro and Il Penseroso, lines from which headed each movement of the score. Colourful, graphic and impressively scored, we arrive at a finale of opulent proportions including a part for organ to bring weight to the lower strings. Such music comes as second nature to David Lloyd-Jones, who prods the music along though ever mindful that you have the give the symphonies space and vibrancy. They also work well with the Bournemouth Symphony who have that requisite rounded and smooth tone, the brass in superb form with timpani adding some charming and subtle touches. Good sound quality.

Hugh Shirley, October 2007

I can recommend this disc as an enjoyable musical experience, extremely well played and cleanly recorded

Listening to this disc, the second in Naxos's cycle of the symphonies, of Charles Stanford made me pity the lot of those composers who, hard working and not unsuccessful in their lifetimes, failed to find a position, however lowly, in the musical pantheon. Although Stanford's name lives on through much of his excellent and oft-performed church music, the two symphonies on this disc, both extremely well crafted and enjoyable works, seem to have started their decent into oblivion almost as soon as the ink dried on the page.

Richard Whitehouse's informative liner note tells us that the Second Symphony, composed in 1880, was performed a handful of times in the early 1880s and then not heard again until the 1990s. The fifth, inspired by Milton's L'Allegro ed il Penseroso was composed in 1894 and was, by all accounts, similarly neglected, only being published in 1923.

I have nothing but admiration for Naxos in setting out to record these works with Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and David Lloyd-Jones, who perform the work with total commitment, evoking a feeling of joy at their discoverys. However, despite enjoying this disc, I did find myself asking how quickly I'll reach for it off the shelf to have another listen.

The painful fact remains that while these works are excellently composed they are not terribly original. There's a temptation to treat the task of reviewing them as a kind of 'spot the influence' competition, so broad and defining are the influences of other composers: Brahms (the Second Symphony was first heard in a concert which also featured Joachim playing that composer's Violin Concerto), Mendelssohn, Schubert and Dvořák to name but the most obvious.

These influences are particularly strong in the faster movements, It's verging on understatement when Whitehouse identifies the opening of the Second Symphony's as 'very Brahmsian', it certainly sounds as though Stanford was familiar with that composer's First Symphony. Brahms is probably the greatest influence in the Second Symphony's opening movement, while the fifth (extremely anachronistically) has whole stretches of Mendelssohn, even if it shows some imagination in reaction to Milton's poem. The only tiny hint that Stanford had ever heard a note of Wagner comes in the middle section of the fifth's Allegretto grazioso. It's not the dissonance of Tristan though that has pierced Stanford's musical consciousness, but dances of the guilds from the final act of Meistersinger.

I think I probably enjoyed the slow movements most, in both works substantial structures of around ten minutes. The Andante molto tranquillo of the fifth is especially well turned, leading to a genuinely touching (if still Brahmsian) climax and populated by some lovely, yearning melodies and deft touches of orchestration. The Lento espressivo of the Second Symphony has some of the same qualities but remains more Mendelssohnian that Brahmsian in its expressive range, and it is Mendelssohn's spirit which seems to be the main influence in that work's Scherzo.

The most ambitious movement on the disc is, without doubt, the Allegro Molto finale of the Fifth Symphony; its theme, which seems to evoke some sort of strange, ancient pageantry is developed over a twelve minute span (including briefly from 0'55 in a guise that sounds distinctly like Schubert's 'Unfinished') before its eventual triumphant statement in the brass. The niggling fact remains here and everywhere on the disc that however hard Stanford tries, this music never quite achieves the effect that the composer strives for.

I can recommend this disc as an enjoyable musical experience, extremely well played and cleanly recorded. It is also fascinating to hear how another musical personality, known now mainly for a small tranche of his output, applied his craft in different genres. However, those looking for forgotten masterpieces can't quite give up their search yet.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group