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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

Jerry Dubins
Fanfare, January 2012

Gould Piano…play the quartet with the fullness of passion it deserves…Gould and Frith are charming in the pieces for violin and piano…this is strongly recommended. © 2012 Fanfare Read complete review on Fanfare

Christopher Howell
MusicWeb International, December 2011

Not a cycle as such, but all of Stanford’s chamber music for more than one stringed instrument and piano has now been recorded. The première recording of the unpublished Second Piano Quartet reveals a major work and the new version of Piano Trio no.1 is at least the equal of its predecessor by the Pirasti Trio. The three beautiful pieces for violin and piano are premières too. © MusicWeb International

John France
MusicWeb International, November 2011

The playing of all the music on this CD is simply superb. The Gould Trio, David Adams and Benjamin Frith are bold advocates for this important and interesting music. It is finely recorded. The notes by Jeremy Dibble are extremely helpful.

This is one of the best CDs of British chamber music to be released in recent years. It is essential listening for anyone who loves Stanford and/or British chamber music. How anyone could listen to this CD and still believe that Stanford’s music is ‘as dry as dust’ totally evades me. Read complete review

James Inverne
Gramophone, November 2011

Charles Villiers Stanford was such a wonderful composer, it hardly needs saying here, and Naxos has done well by him. So well that I ungratefully wonder whether we might have one or two of his operas (Much Ado about Nothing, anyone?). But here is a stylish exploration that shows yet again that our concert halls should be programming more Stanford. I’d go.

Andrew Achenbach
Gramophone, November 2011

Two superior Stanford works—and another feather in this ensemble’s cap

I’m delighted to be able to report that the Gould Piano Trio are magnificently stylish and sympathetic champions, and in the Piano Quartet they are joined by the excellent David Adams on the viola. Benefiting from top-notch production values throughout, this generously filled disc should be snapped up without delay.

Elaine Fine
American Record Guide, November 2011

Dublin-born Sir Charles Villiers Stanford[’s]…music on this recording makes it clear that he was one of the very finest composers of the later 19th and early 20th centuries. Stanford’s ‘Legend’ and his ‘Jig’ and ‘Hush Song’…are gorgeous and subtly Irish. Why these pieces are not part of the standard violin and piano literature is a mystery to me.

All the playing on this recording is excellent. I’m extremely grateful to these marvelous musicians for introducing me to these newlyunearthed treasures.

To read the complete review, please visit American Record Guide online.

Christopher Howell
MusicWeb International, October 2011

The First Piano Trio… remained dormant until the present recording and a performance by the same forces in 2010. The manuscript has been edited by Jeremy Dibble, who also provides the authoritative notes.

…no one who buys this CD—which deserves to be a bestseller—is likely to conclude that Stanford himself had failed to deliver. Furthermore, while Stanford’s use of first-movement sonata form in his symphonies always retained a certain academic correctness—and in fact he gradually abandoned the symphony in favour of the Irish Rhapsody for his major orchestral statements—he allowed himself a more inventive approach to form in his chamber music.

Stanford seems to have been particularly impressed by Brahms’s device, in his Fourth Symphony…The first movement of the First Piano Trio is not the only occasion when Stanford adopted this technique, but manipulating it entirely for his own purposes. In effect, the movement becomes three statements—rather than a first statement, a development and a restatement. The second statement is the most varied, the third statement closer to the original one. Brahms’s symphonic growth is thereby replaced by a finely controlled rhapsody in which Stanford’s lyrical gifts flower freely.

The second movement is a charming intermezzo.

The previous recording of the First Piano Trio, coupled with the First Piano Quartet, was by the Pirasti Trio (ASV CD DCA 1056)… while the three players of the Pirasti Trio are excellent musicians, and so are the string players of the Gould Piano Trio, Benjamin Frith is something more. He is the sort of exceptionally gifted artist who gives a clear profile, a sense of character and a meaning to everything he plays. At times a theme, first heard on the strings and very nicely handled, assumes its full flowering when Frith takes it up. He is, however, too good a musician to deliberately outplay his colleagues and his presence tends to inspire rather than dwarf them. All the same, the Gould performance is a little more piano-led than the Pirasti one. Only time will tell if I find myself listening to one more than the other. For the moment I am just delighted that this major work now has two recordings fully worthy of it.

The “Legend”, to which Stanford did not even attach an opus number, shows what treasures can sometimes emerge from the more unsuspected corners of his output. Lucy Gould plays it with a sense of self-communing that is highly attractive.

The “Six Irish Fantasies” were written for Lady Hallé, who often played them. The opening page of the “Jig” sounds like a blueprint for all the folksy finales written over the next couple of generations by the likes of Holst and Moeran.

“Hush Songs”, as the Irish call their lullabies, figure largely in Stanford’s output. Such was the resourcefulness, inventiveness and technical variety…that it would be instructive rather than monotonous to hear all 17 of these pieces one after the other. When played with the sensitivity of a Benjamin Frith, the result is magical indeed. Lucy Gould again adopts a introverted manner which might seem rather small on the concert platform. Her first note is almost inaudible even on disc. More important, however, is the real sensitivity and affection for the music she shows.

The Second Piano Quartet opens with a slow introduction. The furrow-brows soon give way to a chorale with rippling piano accompaniment that transports us straight into the Irish hills.

The finale…performance is completely convincing, concluding an essential disc for anyone interested in romantic chamber music, and I don’t just mean British romantic chamber music. Hopefully, the Gould Piano Trio will now give us the Second Piano Trio in a more measured performance to supplant the over-hasty Pirasti version.

We used to be told that Stanford was only good—if at all—at writing miniatures. As larger works emerged from oblivion we were warned that he was very uneven, only a few things could be saved from his laborious over-production. Funny, then, that now we can hear all his music for piano and two or more strings, and all six pieces have turned out to be fine and rewarding works.

David Hurwitz, October 2011

[Stanford’s] best pieces are always those where he allows the folk influence to shine, as in the two Irish Fantasies included here…The First Piano Trio has two charming middle movements, including a curious minuet that also doubles as a sort of slow movement.

The Second Piano Quartet…has all of the vigor and passion…The fleet scherzo is a treat, but the thematic material generally is more striking and stronger in profile than in the trio. All the performances here are very sympathetic. Pianist Benjamin Frith is considerate of his colleagues but characterful when he needs take over the spotlight. The strings are well balanced and nicely tuned both against the piano and each other. …this disc is worth hearing for the balance of the program—and that’s still almost 50 solid minutes.

John Terauds
Toronto Star, August 2011

…thanks to dedicated enthusiasts like England’s Gould Trio…we can roll around in some of his most engaging music through gorgeous interpretations…the Goulds…elegantly serve up the four-movement…Other treats on the album are the sparkling, spacious Piano Trio No. 1 and some light stuff—a Legend and two of a set of six Irish Fantasies—that serves as the whipped cream, with cherry on top.

Bob McQuiston
Classical Lost and Found, August 2011

The Gould Piano Trio continue their investigation of rarely heard chamber music by British composer Sir Charles Villiers Stanford…on this new CD from Naxos. These are all world premiere recordings except for the trio. And we have the Gould to thank for resurrecting the quartet, which was never published. Prior to their revival of it last year, it probably hadn’t been performed publicly since 1914!

The concert opens with the first piano trio of 1889, which Stanford dedicated to his good friend, the legendary pianist and conductor Hans von Bülow (1830–1894). In four immaculate movements, the influence of Johannes Brahms (1833–1897) is evident right from the start. This figures considering Sir Charles studied in Germany between 1874 and 1876 with Joseph Joachim (1831–1907), who was a close associate of Johannes, and highly revered his music.

The initial sonata form allegro is very lyrical, and opens with a couple of attractive ideas, which are subjected to an emotionally charged development. A glowing recapitulation and spirited final coda end the movement, anticipating the capricious allegretto to come. It’s a quirky scherzo-like offering reminiscent of Robert Schumann (1810–1856) in his more quixotic “Eusebius and Florestan” moments. Delicate and fleeting, it never outstays its welcome, and is the exact opposite of the graceful minuet movement that’s next.

The concluding allegro is a sonata-rondo with a pair of recurring themes that are infectiously manic and melodically subdued respectively. They are co-developed and ultimately blended together in a stunning recapitulation with a final coda that ends the trio in a blaze of light.

The six-minute Legend for violin and piano from 1894 follows. It’s based on a wintry reserved idea (WR) that may suggest Grieg’s (1843–1907) more Northern moments. There is a hint of spring when an antsy variant of WR appears briefly [track-5, beginning at 02:26], but Jack Frost ices the final pages.

Next up, the only two of Stanford’s Six Irish Fantasies for violin and piano (1894) currently on disc. “Jig” (No. 3) is a miniscule theme with variations, and “Irish as Paddy’s pig”…“Hush Song” (No. 5) is a lullaby with delicate chromatic colorations, and finds the composer at his folk-inspired best.

Now for the pièce de résistance, the second piano quartet completed in 1913. As noted above, this was never published, and appears here thanks to the editing efforts of musicologist Jeremy Dibble…

The beginning sonata form andante must rank with the composer’s most engaging movements. Its anguished introduction has seeds of two main ideas that soon blossom forth in the opening statement. The frantic first one (FF) [track-8, beginning at 00:47] is in a minor key as opposed to the radiant second (RS) [track-8, beginning at 01:37], which is in the major. They undergo a rigorous development, followed by a trick recapitulation, where FF returns unexpectedly in the major, and RS, the minor. Eventually they find their proper keys, and the movement concludes in a matter-of-fact manner.

There would seem to be Hibernian folk elements present in the winsome adagio, which opens with a lovely lilting melody (LL) [track-8, beginning at 00:27]. A brief nervous central passage [track-9, beginning at 02:39] anticipates the agitated scherzo that’s next. Here some virtuosic deviltry involving all the players surrounds a comely trio section with a catchy ditty most likely of folk origin.

The final allegro begins with a confident angular melody perfectly suited to the transitional, step-wise modulatory episode that’s next. It introduces the second subject [track-11, beginning at 01:12], which has embedded references to LL. An extended development follows, and then an ebullient recapitulation with cyclic hints of FF as well as RS. The quartet ends with an infectious scampering coda, leaving the listener with no reservations about any of the superbly crafted selections programmed here.

As on their previous Stanford release for Naxos (see above), the members of the Gould Piano Trio along with violist David Adams in the quartet, give a good accounting of themselves. Enthusiastic, technically perfect performances are the rule, making these late romantic scores all the more appealing.

Like the Mathias disc we told you about in June…these recordings were made at Champs Hill, West Sussex, which is one of Britain’s finest small chamber music venues. The instruments are projected across a relatively wide soundstage in an acoustically obliging space that makes the Brahmsian sonorities found in Sir Charles’ music all the richer.

On the other hand, a silvery rather than silken string tone and percussively well-rounded piano assure well-focused, demonstration quality sound. Just for the record, some pointy-eared audiophiles may detect a couple of isolated thumps probably due to a timpanic performing-stage.

Brian Wilson Download Roundup
MusicWeb International, August 2011

Naxos have already done well by Stanford with recordings of his symphonies...choral music and the Piano Trio No.3, etc., played by the Gould Piano Trio. (8.570416—see reviews by Michael Cookson and Christopher Howell (Bargain of the Month.)

Much as I enjoyed that earlier recording, I think the current successor is even better. If you still harboured any misconceptions about Stanford as a comfortable Victorian composer, forget them: the First Piano Trio combines as much intensity and lyricism as any of Elgar’s chamber music and the Gould Trio do it full justice. Aided by David Adams, they also give a first-class performance of the Second Piano Quartet, an unjustly neglected work which was never published in the composer’s lifetime and has only recently been resurrected by the Gould Trio with the editorial assistance of Professor Jeremy Dibble, who also contributes the authoritative notes. The mp3 sound is very good, contributing to a strong recommendation.

Blair Sanderson, August 2011

…this disc receive a thorough dusting off by the Gould Piano Trio, which consists of violinist Lucy Gould, cellist Alice Neary, and pianist Benjamin Frith, who perform in the piano trio, and are joined by violist David Adams in the Piano Quartet No. 2 in C minor. Typical of Stanford’s style are the expansive forms and long-breathed melodies of noble character, supported throughout by rhythmic gestures and energetic counterpoint, which was strongly by Johannes Brahms. The Piano Trio and the Piano Quartet exude a sweet Romanticism, and the richness of the harmonies and gracefulness of the melodies should win these pieces many more performances. Also quite attractive are the pieces composed for violin and piano, which form the heart of this program. “The Legend,” “The Jig,” and “Hush Song” from the Six Irish Fantasies are charming parlor pieces that would be appealing on any violin recital. Naxos provides warm and vibrant sound, so this album is an excellent introduction to a body of work that plainly deserves an appreciative audience.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, July 2011

It is largely due to the recording industry that Sir Charles Villiers Stanford has taken his rightful place of preeminence among British composers before the arrival of Edward Elgar. His English parents were living in Ireland at the time of his birth in 1852, his education taking him to Cambridge University where, instead of studying law as his father intended, he chose a career in music. A highly regarded organist who turned to composition when he moved to study in Leipzig and Berlin, Stanford returning to Cambridge as Professor of Composition. There, it was said, he simply passed Germanic traditions to his pupils, that caveat continuing when he added the same position at London’s Royal College of Music, Holst, Vaughan Williams and Bridge being among his pupils. It is true that Brahms and Schumann hover in the background of the First Piano Trio of 1889, and that is even more pertinent in the powerful Second Piano Trio completed in 1913. It was to remain unperformed until the Gould Piano Trio, augmented by the viola of David Adams, gave its premiere last year. But there in the second movement we have evidence of that idiom that would later be described as ‘British nostalgia’. It is a work that deserves and requires a place in the standard piano quartet repertoire. In both of these works the playing of the Gould is superb, the care in phrasing and the music’s flow is so ideal. Their quite passages are magical, and climatic moments are played with passion. To this world premiere recording is added the Legend and two Irish Fantasies played by the violin and piano of the Gould—Lucy Gould and Benjamin Frith—the three works in Stanford’s day aimed at gifted amateur musicians. Highly describable and an absolute necessity for all Anglophiles.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group