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Em Marshall
Albion Magazine Online, September 2009

Stanford’s First Symphony is here given an elegant performance under the masterly baton of David Lloyd-Jones. The symphony has an unusually long first movement, a dancing and almost Mahlerian second movement (which might have benefitted from a slightly lighter touch and a little more rhythmic freedom), and a lively and energetic fourth movement. It is paired with the Clarinet Concerto, now one of Stanford’s best-known works, in which Robert Plane is the excellent soloist. The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra is outstanding in these two delightful works.

John Quinn
MusicWeb International, September 2009

This release might be said to be a case of “In my beginning is my end” for the Naxos Stanford symphony cycle concludes with his First Symphony.

Written in 1876 and entered for a competition—in which it won second prize—the symphony was not performed until 1879. But this three-year wait was as nothing: in his notes accompanying the Vernon Handley cycle (Chandos) Lewis Foreman says that the work was then forgotten until the Handley recording was made in 1991.

The symphony is on a pretty ambitious scale for a first attempt in the genre; cast in the classic four movements and playing for just over three quarters of an hour. Certainly Stanford did not lack confidence! The substantial first movement is prefaced by an expansive introduction, expressively unfolded by David Lloyd-Jones, after which an energetic allegro vivace is unfurled (4:33). The influences on Stanford’s music of German romantics—Brahms, Mendelssohn and, in particular, Schumann—are often cited. This allegro is a prime example and, to be honest, if I’d heard this music ‘blind’ and been asked to name the composer I’m sure the name of Schumann would have sprung readily to mind. It’s lively, enjoyable music and the performance is similarly lively.

The second movement is an affectionate ländler, sporting two contrasting trios. Lloyd-Jones ensures that the music flows easily and naturally. He leads a fine account of the slow movement, which features some especially pleasing string passages. To wrap things up Stanford provides a vigorous, confident finale. This bracing music finds the Bournemouth orchestra in sprightly form. The symphony is an assured and enjoyable start to Stanford’s career as a symphonist. The present performance can also be described as assured and enjoyable and, as such, it’s on a par with the previous issues in this series and a fitting culmination to this Naxos cycle.

Stanford’s Clarinet Concerto is probably his best-known orchestral work and it makes an appropriate choice to fill out this CD and round off the series, especially as its first performance took place in Bournemouth. Stanford wrote it and initially dedicated it to Richard Mühlfeld, the inspiration behind the clarinet chamber music of Brahms. However, Mühlfeld rejected the work. Like so many other of Stanford’s orchestral compositions the concerto fell into neglect after its debut but it was rescued from obscurity by Frederick Thurston and here we have a direct line, as it were, through the late Dame Thea King, pupil and wife of Thurston, to the soloist on this present recording. Robert Plane, the current principal clarinet of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, was a pupil of Dame Thea, who made a celebrated recording of this very concerto. He gracefully dedicates his own recording of it to her memory.

It’s a fine concerto, in which Stanford writes effectively for the solo instrument. He exploits the athletic potential of the clarinet but, above all, he relishes its woody melodic capabilities. At the heart of the concerto—accounting for nearly half of its length—is the lovely Andante con moto. Robert Plane phrases the music sensitively and evocatively and he receives excellent support from the orchestra. I feel sure that Thea King would have delighted in his lyrical account of this movement and that she would have appreciated his sprightly playing in the outer movements. This is a splendid performance and it makes a welcome appendage to the symphony cycle.

It’s been a delight to appraise this cycle of the Stanford symphonies. They are not top- drawer works of blazing genius in the manner of the symphonies of Elgar or the best of the Vaughan Williams cycle: in the last analysis the music isn’t on the same plane of achievement, nor is it as consistently memorable. However, they are far from negligible and their neglect is as regrettable as it is unjustified. The fine recordings by Vernon Handley are far from displaced in my view but this cycle by David Lloyd-Jones complements the Handley recordings very nicely. It is a cause for celebration that we have not one recorded cycle of the Stanford symphonies available but two. And for me one of the key things is that at the advantageous Naxos price music-lovers will be tempted, I hope, to give these symphonies a try and in that way the audience for them should be expanded.

Anyone coming new to these symphonies can invest with confidence in this disc or in any of its predecessors. As is so often the case with Naxos, the price may be low but the quality of the product is most certainly not.

Naxos are to be thanked for and congratulated on their Stanford cycle. May we now hope that they will turn their attention to Parry’s five fine symphonies and some of his other orchestral music, not least his masterly Symphonic Variations? I’d venture to suggest that in David Lloyd-Jones and the estimable Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra they have just the team for the job.

Jerry Dubins
Fanfare, May 2009

The musical influences you will hear in Stanford’s 1876 Symphony No. 1 in B♭ Major are many—Beethoven, Schubert, and Mendelssohn, to be sure—but the one overarching presence hovering over this score is, no, not Brahms, but Schumann. There are no direct quotations, but the melodic contours, the ways in which phrases are extended and developed, and, most of all, the textures of the orchestral tapestry will remind you repeatedly of Schumann’s same-keyed “Spring” Symphony…The late and beloved Handley, who passed away in September 2008, had, I think, a slightly more British take on Stanford’s music, lending it a crisper, tauter feel, whereas Lloyd-Jones is more expansive and expressive, giving reign to the score’s German Romantic roots. Timings don’t tell the whole story, but Lloyd-Jones’s pace is slower in each of the symphony’s four movements, especially so in the opening Larghetto. Then, too, Lloyd-Jones’s Bournemouth band of 2007 is in better form than was Handley’s Ulster forces in 1991. Add to that Naxos’s fantastic recording, and you have a real winner.

Steven J Haller
American Record Guide, March 2009

Stanford’s seventh and last symphony was offered by David Lloyd-Jones and the Bournemouth players in the very first installment of his estimable Naxos survey [8.570285], and now rounding out the cycle we have the First Symphony. While Lloyd-Jones failed to unleash that last “barbaric yawp” in the Irish finale [8.570355], in general his Naxos cycle has proved a worthy contender even against Vernon Handley’s Ulster survey (Chandos). With the sad news of “Tod” Handley’s death last September, we may at least be grateful that Stanford’s legacy remains in such good hands.

But one might wonder if Stanford’s legacy is even appreciated today, considering that only the Irish Symphony has been recorded separately, and none too memorably at that (Del Mar; Sept/Oct 1995). Stanford never attempted to have his First Symphony published, and after a single performance it remained quite forgotten until the 1991 Chandos recording. Stanford, then 23 and only just graduated from Cambridge, submitted it to a competition sponsored in London and came up against stiff competition—46 entries in all—reflecting the eager interest of young British composers in writing symphonies at a time when the models of Brahms, Dvořák, and Tchaikovsky were yet to come. (The only example we’re likely to recognize these days was Sullivan’s Irish Symphony written 10 years earlier.) The judges were Sir George Macfarren and the noted violinist Joseph Joachim, and first prize went to Macfarren’s son-in-law, Francis William Davenport. Stanford had to settle for second place. But unlike Davenport’s symphony, we now have two recordings of the Stanford.

The rather brooding introduction centering around an amiable sally by strings and winds might look ahead to Brahms; yet distant fanfares from the horns lead in round-about fashion to a heady Allegro vivace beholden to Mendelssohn or possibly Schumann, nimbly tripping triplet rhythms with honors evenly divided among winds and brass over spirited busywork by the strings, who seem to relish the young Stanford’s vigorous and playful mood swings. There’s a skillful development leading to a triumphant coda. Lloyd-Jones’s bumptious good humor quite nicely complements Handley’s more lyrical approach, so that differences in timing may be traced mainly to the exposition repeat—Lloyd-Jones takes it, Handley doesn’t.

The ländler-styled Scherzo for me calls to mind early Bruckner more than Schubert (as both the Naxos and Chandos notes suggest) with a naive, yet winsome quality that contrasts nicely with the sprightly first trio section—even more so the intimate chamber music setting of the second trio with sundry solo players stepping forward in turn. While the timings are mere seconds apart, Lloyd-Jones holds things together more tautly. The hushed and expressive Andante tranquillo expands in unhurried fashion, soaring horns already looking ahead to the rich vein of Irish folk song yet to come, with poetic solos for first cello and then clarinet, and farther in the violin. With the “heads-up” fanfares by the brass and the driving, rapid-fire barrage that follows, the Allegro molto finale leaves all echoes of Gaelic sentiment far behind, undaunted even by the delicate Schumannesque second subject or a deceptively terse chorale in the brass that Stanford now sets aside, to be brought back gloriously by the trombones near the close. This is sure-fire stuff, and both Lloyd-Jones and Handley exult in what Lewis Foreman gleefully calls “a youthful exhibition of high spirits”.

Stanford might be surprised that his Clarinet Concerto, haughtily dismissed by the Richard Mühlfeld and seldom played during the composer’s lifetime, has been recorded more often than any of the symphonies. To these ears it seems a font of boundless optimism, yet tempered by melancholy—most of all the soloist, who stands out all the more as Stanford has thoughtfully omitted the clarinets from the orchestral accompaniment. Although the concerto is written as one continuous piece, the middle section with its rich writing for the horns has the soulful feel of a Gaelic keening, while Malcolm Arnold might well have had the jazzy finale tucked away in the back of his mind when he wrote his own Clarinet Concerto some 50 years later. I haven’t heard the Hyperion with Thea King or the ASV with Emma Johnson (Sept/Oct 1992) that we placed ahead of Janet Hilton on Chandos (May/June 1992); but I compared Robert Plane to Hilton and much preferred his mellower sound—Hilton’s tone has a bit of an “edge” to it—and his more fluid motion, especially in the finale, where Hilton’s fingering sometimes seems gawky next to Plane. But Plane really draws out the central Andante (10:02 against 7:49 for Hilton).

Both Naxos and Chandos have problems with echo, more noticeable in heavily scored climaxes; still, both of these ensembles are among the finest Britain has to offer, and at the price I can’t imagine anyone who owns the Chandos turning down this one. I hope a boxed set of the Stanford symphonies will follow from Naxos.

Malcolm Hayes
Classic FM, February 2009

Stanford was a prolific master-technician who, as composer and teacher, did much to lay the foundations of English music's flowering in the 20th century. His own idiom had everything—except individuality. At times in the immaculately written First Symphony his roistering Irish roots push through, as in the first movement's main theme. Elsewhere here, and in the Clarinet Concerto, the manner of Mendelssohn and Schumann dominates likeably, if unremittingly. To judge from the excellence of both performances, it's also music that's good to play, with Plane relishing the Concerto's virtuoso solo part.

Gary Lemco
Audiophile Audition, December 2008

While the “British revival” in music has been ongoing since the 1970s or even prior, I have not been exposed to much by way of Sir Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924), whose First Symphony (1876) has all the earmarks of the Dvorak style. Lovely, melodic expression, fluency of texture, folkish charm, and an easy way with part writing and counterpoint, all point to a thoroughly Europeanized, romantic ethos. I sense nothing of the parochial in this work, only a natural, assertive buoyancy I could have mistaken for late Mendelssohn or Schumann. The Scherzo is marked “in laendler tempo,” a concession, perhaps, to more sarcastic impulses in Bruckner and Mahler, though the bucolic affect and presence of two trios mark it as a scion of Schubert or Schumann. The prominent solo violin part (from leader Duncan Riddle) comes forth modestly here, but declaims itself to noble effect in the Andante tranquillo third movement. Violins and violas com sordino open the meditative proceedings, again all highly reminiscent of Dvorak’s temper. The last movement, for all its brass intricacies and somewhat Wagnerian impetus, owes debts to the Brahms penchant for classical order and repose, the contrapuntal finesse making itself unobtrusively apparent.

Like Brahms, Stanford knew clarinetist Richard Muehlfeld of the Meningen Orchestra, and meant his 1903 Clarinet Concerto for that gifted player. Muehlfeld never did perform it, but Charles Draper and later, Frederick Thurston, made the concerto their own. An appealing lyric piece, the Clarinet Concerto alternates vivacious figures with a sense of repose, and the last movement makes several allusions to the tumbler’s antics of Carl Maria von Weber by way of an Irish gig or two. Soloist Robert Plane, a student of Thea King, brandishes a lovely, mellifluous tone and plastic technique, quite charming. The recording, from June 2007, resounds ever so warmly, the clarinet, strings, and horns quite ripe, without any hint of professional slickness that might rob Stanford’s music of its spontaneous appeal., December 2008

The final volume in Naxos’ series of the symphonies of Sir Charles Villiers Stanford is the one that finally offers his first symphony—a substantial work that dates to 1876 (when Stanford was 24) and shows Stanford to have been heavily influenced by Schumann, Mendelssohn, Schubert and Brahms without having developed a strong individual musical personality. Some would argue that he never did develop one, at least in his symphonies. It is certainly true that, harmonically and structurally, he remained attached to 19th-century symphonic models throughout his life. Stanford’s First Symphony is more amiable than intense, although it shows fine command of orchestration and counterpoint—and considerable expressiveness. The scherzo, marked “In Ländler Tempo,” is especially interesting: it is an intermezzo with two nicely contrasting trios. This is not a symphony of great depth, but it certainly shows a young composer with potential. The volumes of this series released earlier let listeners judge to what extent that potential was fulfilled. [Vol. 1 (Vol. 1, Nos. 4 & 7 - 8.570285; Vol. 2, Nos. 2 & 5 8.570289; Vol. 3, Nos. 3 & 6 8.570355] The symphony is paired with a very well-played performance of Stanford’s Clarinet Concerto—one of his few works that is still heard in concert with some frequency. Here it is not only the musical language that is reminiscent of Brahms: Stanford wrote the work for and dedicated it to Richard Mühlfeld, for whom Brahms had written his famous late-career clarinet works. But Mühlfeld rejected Stanford’s work, for no known reason—although it is worth pointing out that Stanford’s concerto lacks the ease of flow and beauty of thematic material to be found in Brahms. Stanford’s concerto was first played in 1903, six years after Brahms’ death, but it does sound like a throwback to earlier times (while Brahms’ own clarinet music, for all its romanticism, often seems to look ahead). As in his First Symphony, Stanford keeps the mood of his Clarinet Concert pleasantly expressive, making the work easy to listen to (although scarcely easy to play: Robert Plane handles its difficulties very skillfully). There is little depth to either the symphony or the concerto, but both are very well put together and show Stanford to have been a very fine craftsman, if scarcely an inspired composer.

Anthony Burton
BBC Music Magazine, December 2008


David Lloyd-Jones and the Bournemouth SO make a strong case for this neglect work [Symphony No. 1], yielding nothing in insight or precision to the late Vernon Handley’s for Chandos…The First completes Naxos’s cycle of the symphonies [Vol 1 - Nos. 4 & 7 on 8.570285; Vol 2 - Nos. 2 & 5 on 8.570289; Vol 3 - Nos. 3 & 6 on 8.570355], leaving room for the Clarinet Concerto of more than a quarter-century later. This has a characteristically deft three-movement-in-one structure, centred on a slow movement of real melodic distinction. It’s hard to imagine why it was turned down by its intended soloist, Brahms’s favourite clarinetist Richard Mühlfield—unless perhaps he objected to changing from B flat to A clarinet during the transition to the finale?

Robert Plane is an excellent soloist, emulating the incisiveness of his late teacher Thea King on Helios and the delicacy of Emma Johnson (another King pupil) on ASV, while adding his own touches of fantasy; the orchestra provides sympathetic and well characterised support. Altogether, a valuable contribution to the continuing Stanford revival.

Jeremy Dibble
Gramophone, December 2008

Early Stanford explored, while Plane offers an exceptional concerto

This is the final recording in the Naxos series of Stanford symphonies [Vol  1 (Nos 4 & 7) 8.570285, Vol 2 (Nos 2 & 5) 8.570289, Vol 3 (Nos 3 & 6) 8.570355], featuring an unusual coupling of the early (but by no means juvenile) First Symphony (1876), without an opus number, and the much later Clarinet Concerto (1903). The sound of these Naxos recordings with an on-form BSO has a more forward quality than the clean but slightly more distant recordings by Handley on Chandos, which, for the rather luminous chamber quality of Stanford’s second and third movements (especially the solo string- and wind-writing), gives greater clarity to the pointilistic, almost Mendelssohnian orchestration.

As with the other three recordings, Lloyd-Jones shows a real flair for the classical architecture of Stanford’s art but at the same time he responds to the underlying and inescapable passion that exudes from the scores. The first movement, though markedly slower than Handley’s, retains a spaciousness and verve, while the finale has an infectious rhythmical élan reminding us of its foremost influence, Schumann’s Spring Symphony (in the same key).

Stanford’s first (though unpublished) foray into symphonic music deserves to be better known but his Clarinet Concerto, here played by Robert Plane, is frequently given an airing as recordings on Hyperion, ASV and Chandos attest.  A fine work, in one continuous movement, written for Robert Mühlfeld (who never played it), it makes masterly use of the instrument’s wide register and variety of timbres. Plane’s interpretation of the composer’s long lyrical lines (in particular the central Andante), the climatic peaks, dramatic interjections and tender pianissimo, are nothing short of exceptional in their careful grading; clearly, as his recording of Stanford’s chamber works for clarinet [Clarinet Sonata / Piano Trio No. 3 / Two Fantasies, Naxos 8.570416] demonstrates, he has a special affinity for this music.

John France
MusicWeb International, November 2008

Stanford is a consummate craftsman—he understands the formal principles of the symphony better than most and he develops some very subtle approaches to the various so-called ‘standard movement forms’. There is certainly nothing predictable about his music. …The long opening movement is probably unique in British music prior to Sir Edward Elgar—most especially for its length… I find this music totally satisfying and from the opening slow introduction into the ‘allegro’– the contrast between themes and sections avoids any possible lack of interest. The principal theme and the second subject seem to complement each other in music that is at times reflective and sometimes decisive.

The second movement is hardly a traditional scherzo —it is signed ‘In Landler Tempo’ which suggests an ‘intermezzo’ rather than more robust or witty music. It is not ground-breaking stuff—but both the formal and the instrumental balance reveals this as well thought out music that is both captivating and suave. Stanford contrasts the main theme with two fine trios.

Like a number of Stanford’s Symphonies, the slow movement is probably the heart of this work. Yet this is not some great meditation on the meaning of life—more a reflection on a young man’s dreams. Here and there the careful listener may detect hints of Irish folk-song and a general feel of the Emerald Isle rather than the banks of the Rhine. Look out for the use of the solo violin towards the end of the movement. I think this CD is worth the purchase price just to hear this one movement —although I strongly counsel against excerpting!

The ‘Finale’ manages to combine drive and momentum with a more pedantic, but thoroughly enjoyable fugal passage. Here Stanford makes expert use of the brass. This is an exuberant and exciting end to what was surely a superb First Symphony.

There are a number of other versions the Clarinet Concerto. In fact it is probably the most popular and performed of all of Stanford’s orchestral works. Perhaps most British music enthusiasts will already own Janet Hilton’s account with Vernon Handley on Chandos or one of those by Thea King (Hyperion) or Emma Johnson (ASV Sanctuary). Without wishing to knock any of these fine recordings, I do wish to suggest that this present version is essential for all Stanford enthusiasts. I am especially impressed by the contrast that Robert Plane creates between and within movements. For my money, it is a moving and sometimes revelatory performance.

The Clarinet Concerto is written in three movements with the two outer ones together being nearly the same length as the ‘andante con moto’. The opening movement balances a sense of exuberance with more reflective music that definitely looks forward to the slow movement. It ends quietly and prepares the way for the ‘andante’, which is the heart of the work. Here the fifty-one year old composer is in his element. Every note of the music makes it mark, yet it does not wear its heart upon its sleeve. This is not all ‘genial’ as clouds impose on the progress of this music. I would suggest that in some ways there is a valedictory feel to this movement. Yet just before the depression sets in, the geniality is revealed: once again the sun shines. However, all of this is truly beautiful. The final movement, an allegro moderato, resolves any outstanding problems created in the foregoing movements and, after a number of quasi-cadenza episodes, leads the work to an optimistic and positive conclusion….all-in-all this is essential listening for three groups of people. One, Stanford buffs like myself who never imagined I would live to see one, let alone two Stanford cycles in my lifetime. Secondly, to any British music fan who wants to see what kind of symphonies were being written in the 1870s. And finally by those people who still swear by the old lie that Stanford is somehow ‘dry as dust’, that he lacks romance, drama, poetry, interest and sheer musicality. They need to get their heads around this CD and discover why people are coming to regard Stanford as the G.O.M. (Great Old Man).

David Denton
David's Review Corner, October 2008

So we reach the final volume of the complete symphonies of Charles Villiers Stanford conducted by David Lloyd-Jones, the most important addition to Stanford in the CD catalogue.

Having been born in Ireland to English parents, his formative years were spent working as an organist in London, and only subsequently studying composition in Leipzig and Berlin. It was under the influence of Germanic music that he composed the First Symphony in 1876, a score he heard played just once in his lifetime. It was the international emergence of Edward Elgar that created the widely held belief that nothing of value had been composed in England during the previous two centuries, a sentiment that killed off the music of Stanford and his contemporaries. Yet had this symphony carried a Schumann attribution it would be heard quite frequently, the strongly melodic opening movement, with its mix of drama and lyricism, is extensive and most rewarding. The scherzo is in the form of a ländler, Lloyd-Jones pressing ahead in the following andante. The finale is designed to engender a sense of excitement in the audience, and this performance certainly achieves that objective. The Clarinet Concerto came much later in 1903 and is now one of the composer’s most oft performed works. It has a symphonic structure, the soloist line often dancing around the thematic material in the orchestra. The finale offers the clarinet a display of agility, but it is not a showpiece score. The soloist is Robert Plane, who enjoyed considerable success with Naxos’s top selling disc of Finzi’s Clarinet Concerto, and has all the required attributes for Stanford, his instrument singing with restraint in the central andante. In sum, an outstanding disc, recorded with ample reverberation, while the Bournemouth Orchestra is in fine form.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group