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Stephen Smoliar, January 2015

STANFORD: Clarinet Sonata / Piano Trio No. 3 / 2 Fantasies 8.570416
STANFORD, C.V.: Piano Quartet No. 2 / Piano Trio No. 1 / Legend / Irish Fantasies (Gould Piano Trio) 8.572452
STANFORD, C.V.: Piano Trio No.2 / Piano Quartet No.1 (Gould Piano Trio, Adams) 8.573388

Listening to the selections on these three albums, one can definitely appreciate the depth of understanding of Brahms that Stanford must have brought to the instruction of his composition students. Furthermore, while one can easily recognize many of Brahms’ tropes in Stanford’s chamber music, through the efforts of the Gould Piano Trio and their colleagues, one can also appreciate how he could refashioned those tropes for new settings. Stanford is not so much imitating Brahms as he is cooking up a new stew with the old familiar ingredients.

In this respect each individual album has been well programmed. …each one provides enough diversity to make beginning-to-end listening a satisfying experience.

Taken as a whole, this is music definitely worthy of acquaintance; and, when performed by these particularly skilled musicians, many listeners are likely to find that acquaintance will turn to friendship. © 2015 Read complete review

Andrew Achenbach
Gramophone, November 2007

Dashing performances for minimal wallet-damage -why are you waiting?

Spooky: no sooner had I dug out Thea King’s affectionate 1980 Hyperion recording of the Stanford Clarinet Sonata following the sad announcement of her death in June than Robert Plane’s new version dropped on the doormat. The work is one of Stanford’s strongest achievements from his later years, boasting at its heart a powerful Adagio (“Caoine” – an Irish lament) which finds Plane even more responsive to the music’s raw emotion and beaming fantasy than either King or Emma Johnson. Ravishing in tone and exploiting and excitingly wide range of dynamic, Plane forges a commandingly articulate alliance with pianist Benjamin Frith. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine more sympathetic music-making – a statement which also holds true for the Three Intermezzi (an exceedingly attractive trilogy dating from 1879) and the two substantial, utterly, disarming Fantasies for clarinet and string quartet, written in 1921-22 for use by students towards the end of Stanford’s 40-year stint as professor of composition at the Royal College of Music.

As if all that were not enough, we’re also treated to the world première recording of the last of Stanford’s three piano trios. Completed in 1918, it’s a truly tautly constructed, urgently communicative piece dedicated to the memory of the two sons (victims, both, of Great War) of Alan Gray, Stanford’s successor as organist of Trinity College and conductor of the Cambridge University Music Society. Again, the performance is absolutely first-class and, with sound that is at once intimate and true, this valuable anthology can be welcomed with open arms. Naxos’s absurdly modest asking-price is the icing on the cake!

Jeremy Nicholas
Classic FM, October 2007

Stanford's Clarinet Concerto (1904) is one of the great works for the instrument. Nothing here quite equals that, yet there is much to admire in these four chamber works for clarinet, described by the composer as being written in a 'Brahmsian' idiom. British clarinettist Robert Plane plays their mellifluous themes with grace and affection. The disc ends with the world premiere of Stanford's Piano Trio No.3 (1918), a tribute to the composer's friends lost in the First World War, an attractive late work that belongs to the previous century.

Michael Cookson
MusicWeb International, October 2007

As part of the ‘British Chamber Music’ series Naxos continue their Stanford survey with this attractive release. Four of the scores feature the clarinet and there’s what seems to be a world première recording of the Piano Trio No.3. The high quality of Stanford’s writing continues to shine like a beacon. My MusicWeb colleague Christopher Howell has also reviewed this disc.

Stanford and his contemporary Parry were the major influences in British music for almost half a century as composers, conductors, teachers and academics. The importance of Stanford’s role as an educator is quite remarkable and his considerable list of students includes: Ralph Vaughan Williams, Frank Bridge, Herbert Howells, Ivor Gurney, E.J. Moeran, Rutland Boughton, Gustav Holst, Rebecca Clarke, John Ireland, Arthur Bliss, Hamish MacCunn, George Butterworth and Samuel Coleridge-Taylor.

Although the prolific Stanford composed in many genres he is often described as the ‘Father of English Choral Music’ being principally remembered for his contribution to sacred choral music. He is frequently at his very best in his settings of canticles, hymns, anthems and services and in the organ works all composed for the Anglican Church. These scores are amongst the finest of their type and are still frequently performed in Anglican cathedrals around the world.

Stanford, a lover of the music of the romantic Germanic/Austrian tradition, especially admired Gluck and Schumann and often programmed the music of Brahms and Beethoven in concert programmes. Following the Great War there was an adverse reaction to music from composers associated with the Victorian and Edwardian eras. The established names now had to compete with the growing enthusiasm for progressive composers such as Schoenberg, Berg, Webern and Stravinsky. Music had rapidly ‘moved forward’ and the English late-romantics of Stanford’s generation had been marginalised.

His tonal and conservative music is often described as ‘Brahmsian’; a well-designed lyricism crammed with colour. Still composing music in the manner of an earlier era, the music, with the exception of his sacred works, slipped into virtual obscurity; so too the music of his contemporaries Parry, Elgar, Mackenzie, Sullivan, German and Bantock. Now after a century we are able to re-evaluate their work for its intrinsic appeal and quality rather than for the dynamic of the era in which it was written.

Overshadowed by the distinction of his sacred choral and organ works and by the orchestral music, Stanford has only recently become associated with the field of chamber music. He composed an impressive total of eight String Quartets between the years of 1891 and 1919. There’s also a large body of miscellaneous chamber scores. He seemed to take the responsibility of writing for the chamber music genre very seriously as he was almost forty before commencing work on his first String Quartet;although he had by this time composed half a dozen chamber works for a variety of other instrumental combinations (see my reviews of Stanford’squartets and quintets on Hyperion).

The opening score on the disc is the substantial Clarinet Sonata, Op.129, a work evocative of Brahms’s autumnal clarinet-based chamber scores written between 1891 and 1894 (see note below). It was completed at the end of 1911 and lies between the writing of the widely admired Songs of the Fleet, Op. 117 (1910) and the Symphony No. 7, Op. 124 (1912). Stanford dedicated the three movement work to clarinettists Oscar W. Street and Charles Draper; there is also a version for viola and piano. The opening, an Allegro moderato,is interpreted like a song of summer sun that at times gives the feeling of having to run for cover during rainstorms. The central movement titled Caoine, marked Adagio (quasi fantasia) contains music of considerable poignancy. The concluding movement Allegretto grazioso has a serious edge, tinged with sadness.

Cast in three movements the Fantasy No 1 for Clarinet and String Quartet was composed in 1921 and was possibly intended for performance by Royal College of Music students. The brief opening movement Allegro moderato alla marcia is confident and robust with martial episodes. The central movement has a yearning quality; perhaps Stanford was indulging his nostalgic longings for Ireland. The highly appealing finale is a vivacious and playful Allegro - elfin and Mendelssohnian. Stanford quotes a motif at (0:17-0:21) that I am familiar with but I cannot identify. Such is the quality of the writing that one begs to know why this score is not part of the standard repertoire.

The Fantasy No 2 for Clarinet and String Quartet, also in three movements, was completed in 1922 and is contemporaneous with the Irish Rhapsody No. 6 for violin and orchestra, Op. 191. Opening with an Allegretto piacevole the Brahmsian feel persists in this relatively light and undemanding movement. In the peaceful Adagio the players educe slight undertones of foreboding. The score ends with a rather unmemorable Quasi presto movement that includes a repeated woodwind motif.

Stanford’s Three Intermezzi for Clarinet and Piano, Op.13 from 1879 share a similar composition date to his grand opera The Veiled Prophet of Khorassan and was premièred at a Cambridge University recital. The Intermezzo No.1 marked Andante espressivo is given a bright and fresh interpretation suggestive of the great outdoors with a lively but short central section. The players provide a playful and rumbustious romp with the Intermezzo No.2 an Allegro agitato. The short central Tranquillo has a somewhat serious character. The Intermezzo No. 3 - an Allegretto scherzando - is a bubbly score with conspicuous piano writing.

The Piano Trio No. 3, Op.158 bears the title ‘Per aspera ad astra’ and is cast in three movements. Completed in 1918 shortly after the Irish Rhapsody No. 5 in G minor, Op. 147, the score honours the memory of friends lost in the Great War. It opens with an Allegro moderato ma con fuoco in which the Gould Piano Trio convey a sense of hectic activity bordering on the frenetic. Two main themes dominate the movement, the first brisk and snappy; the second yearning. Again one is strongly reminded of the sound-world of late Brahms. Possibly the tender central Adagio reflects Stanford’s sorrow over the casualties of the Great War. In the closing movement marked Allegro maestoso e moderato the Goulds communicate a convincing sense of optimism with episodes of considerable joy; makes one wonder if Stanford was reflecting on happier times. The coda brings the score to an exciting conclusion.

Clarinettist Robert Plane continues to impress, demonstrating his impeccable musicianship with an especially agreeable and glowing timbre. I have attended several of Plane’s recitals in collaboration with the Gould Piano Trio. They are one of a handful of elite ensembles currently on the music scene that I have seen go from strength to strength.

The booklet notes by Keith Anderson are interesting and informative.The impeccable playing and good sound quality on this Naxos release should continue to endorse the resurgence of Stanford’s chamber music.

I hope that Naxos will now turn towards other rarely heard British chamber music. There are evidently amongst Sir Hubert Parry’s mature works a String Quartet in G (1880) and a String Quintet in E flat (1909) which are crying out for recording. Furthermore, it was said that Stanford was greatly impressed by the chamber scores from his star/favourite pupils Charles Wood and James Friskin. Other projects could include emulating the lead of the Chandos, Marco Polo and Dutton Epoch labels with further recordings of chamber music from Sir John Blackwood McEwen, Joseph Holbrooke and Cyril Scott. From amongst the many worthy candidates it is about time that the chamber music of another Stanford pupil, Sir Eugene Goossens received reassessment.

Classical Lost and Found, August 2007

This release of chamber music by British composer Sir Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924) is simply a delightful listen. The sonata for clarinet and piano (1911) is a relatively late work with Brahmsian overtones. It's in three movements and opens with an allegro in sonata form that shows Stanford at his most lyrical. The adagio is a moving Irish lament where one can imagine the clarinet as the voice of some long forgotten Hibernian bard accompanied by passages on the piano that are at times reminiscent of the Irish harp. The finale opens with a playful theme which the clarinet and piano toss back and forth before the work ends in an unassuming, but charming manner.

The two fantasies for clarinet and string quartet (1921 and 1922) that follow are very late works. They're both in three movements and have that elegant simplicity so typical of music written by composers in their twilight years. A certain stately wistfulness permeates the first fantasy, conjuring up visions of the English countryside. There's a perky folkish mien about the second that can't help but please the sensitive ear. Three Intermezzi for Clarinet and Piano (1879) are the earliest works here, and certainly owe a great debt to Brahms. The first is a gorgeous melodic outpouring, while the last two are more agitated and end in dance-like fashion.

The world premiere recording of Stanford's third piano trio, subtiltled "Per aspera ad astra," fills out this wonderful disc. Dating from 1918 and in three movements, two magnificent themes dominate the first one, while the following adagio is characterized by a single soul-searching melody that's spun out most effectively. The finale is optimistically bright with some contrapuntal spicing towards the end, and a glimpse of the stars in the glorious closing coda. Clarinetist Robert Plane and the Gould Piano Trio assisted by Mia Cooper, second violin, and David Adams, viola, do these works up proud. The recorded sound is good except for the more forceful clarinet passages which have a bit of an edge.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, August 2007

While Edward Elgar's music was largely responsible for the renaissance of British music around the world, it did equally generate the widely held belief that nothing of value had been produced there in the previous two centuries. It is only in recent years, and with the help of the recording industry, that the thought has been laid to rest, Sir Charles Villiers Stanford among those now taking their rightful place among the nation's finest composers. By birth he was Irish, his English parents at the time living in Dublin, though his education took him to Cambridge University where, instead of studying law as his father intended, he chose a career in music. In his teenage years he was a highly regarded organist, but 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. His detractors saw a musician simply teaching Germanic traditions, his own music enjoying more acclaim in Germany than in his homeland. Yet he had the good sense to allow his pupils - which included Holst, Vaughan Williams and Bridge - to develop their own style, and though he became a prolific composer, he was writing in an outdated fashion at the beginning of the 20th century. In hindsight we can to some extent ignore the period of composition, and simply enjoy his workmanship and ready flow of melodic invention. There is one early work - the Three Intermezzi - written shortly after his return from Germany, but the remaining pieces on the disc come from later life. With Brahms running through its veins, the Clarinet Sonata was completed in 1911, its three movements concentrating on the lyric aspects of the instrument, while the two Fantasies from 1921 and 1922 uses the clarinet as a member of the chamber group rather than as a solo voice. They were not published until 1996, the general feel being one of comforting music. Robert Plane, who enjoyed tremendous success with the Naxos recording of Finzi's Clarinet concerto, is in superb form, his creamy and smooth tone ideal for the music.The jewel is the Third Piano Trio completed in 1918, the dramatic opening movement coming as a response to the First World War, a thought that would run into the central Adagio, music that is sad without overstatement, while the finale is full of vitality and optimism. It is here receiving its first recording, the performance in every way totally satisfying. Members of the Gould Piano Trio link with Mia Cooper and David Adams as the fine string quartet, their pianist, Benjamin Frith the responsive partner in the sonata. The sound quality is exemplary.

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