Charles Villiers Stanford

0 of 5 stars

Suite for violin and orchestra, Op.32
Violin Concerto in D, Op.74

Anthony Marwood (violin)

BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
Martyn Brabbins

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: February 2001
Duration: 67 minutes

A super CD of lovely music! I recall being at a recording session with Vernon Handley when Stanford’s Violin Concerto was mentioned. Handley became very enthusiastic and also mocked (quite rightly) those that would dismiss this work because it is not like or the equal of Brahms’s. Such a notice, I understand, greeted a performance, perhaps its first in 1901 (the year Stanford was knighted) – this needless comparison didn’t stop Fritz Kreisler adding it to his repertoire. On its own not inconsiderable terms Stanford’s Violin Concerto is a fine piece, one with an appeal to anyone liking Dvorak’s concerto or Max Bruch’s three.

However, Brahms’s ghost remains hovering – not in the music necessarily (although do sample the first movement between 13’32”-13’36”!) – but in the perceived wisdom (or lack of it) that continually links Stanford (and Hubert Parry for that matter) with the German master. Dublin-born Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924), an organist, who taught at the Royal College of Music, did indeed have a German training (at Leipzig and Berlin). Yet his music has a softer, more mellifluous side than might be thought Germanic; certainly his German counterpart is Bruch – they share a warm, tender expression. Stanford’s slow movement (this traditional three-movement concerto’s second) is especially lovely, radiantly blooming, confidences intimately shared. (As a stand-alone ‘Romance’, this movement would be a winner.)

The big first movement is assured, well structured (if sometimes uningratiatingly orchestrated) with an underlying sense of expectation and generous melodies. The finale, in its suggestion of Irish folk music, returns Stanford to his roots and has infectious qualities similar to the last movement of Dvorak’s concerto. Then there are the English characteristics of Stanford’s music – Elgarian!

The Suite (written, for Joachim, a decade before the concerto) also has some lovely things in it. Neo-baroque in design and declaration, the opening movement also enjoys some wistful phrases worthy of Elgar before returning to an old-fashioned stance with a violin recitative as a link to the flowing ‘Allemande’ and more introspective ‘Ballade’. The succeeding ‘Tambourin’ includes vivid timpani writing and the energetic final ‘Rondo’ is a purposeful and lyrical conclusion.

Anthony Marwood is a marvellous player in what must be this music’s first recordings (no claims, but are they not?) – his lovely tone and expressive phrasing are ideal. With Martyn Brabbins an alert and sympathetic conductor and the usual high standards from producer Andrew Keener and engineer Tony Faulkner, what more can I say, except … enjoy!

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