Lyrita – Charles Villiers Stanford

0 of 5 stars

Cello Concerto in D minor
Piano Concerto No.3 in E flat, Op.171 [orch. Geoffrey Bush]

Alexander Baillie (cello)

Malcolm Binns (piano)

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Nicholas Braithwaite

Recording dates and locations not advised in Lyrita’s annotation; copyright-date of 2007 is for this first release

Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood

Reviewed: December 2007
Duration: 65 minutes



So prolific was the output of Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924), that even now the majority of it is still under discovery – even the works in a larger form. Thanks to Lyrita – with a recording kept under wraps for quite a few years, its details kept a secret from the booklet – a gap has been filled in the concertante works, with the Third Piano Concerto (1919), as orchestrated by Geoffrey Bush, alongside a much earlier work for cello (1879-80). This latter needs rather less input from other sources for performance, though soloist Alexander Baillie supplies a substantial cadenza to the first movement that is surprisingly sparse in texture, its lower register points of reference recalling Stanford’s Irish Rhapsodies in their melodic lines.

The Cello Concerto is a convincing work, whose emotional centre is the slow movement, which dimly recalls the slow movement of Brahms’s Second Piano Concerto and its solo cello line. Here, Baillie expands on the theme to give it plenty of emotional resonance, helped by full-bodied pizzicatos from the lower strings. Its contrasting central episode is also deeply felt, with Nicholas Braithwaite carefully balancing the woodwind in response.

Lyrita’s recording is rather lean but helps nonetheless to catch the darkly-lit drama of the first movement, with Baillie’s aptitude in the higher register particularly notable. The finale takes a while to shake off this darker mood, but when it does so it energetically romps through to an affirmative conclusion.

The Third Piano Concerto is a big-boned work, its first movement alone a shade over 18 minutes. Though the opening trumpet call is distinctive and memorable, it seems to lose direction as the melody progresses and subsequently proves rather inflexible in the course of melodic development. Unusually for Stanford the momentum flags somewhat towards the end of the movement.

This is however in no way due to Geoffrey Bush’s authentic orchestration, nor the forthright pianism of Malcolm Binns, and when the theme finally returns for the closing pages the softer trumpet sound is nicely realised. Binns also finds a pleasingly flowing style for Stanford’s graceful counterpart to the main theme.

The first movement makes up half of the concerto and is followed by a Larghetto that boasts a particularly atmospheric interlude of lower strings, with Braithwaite keeping the tension impressively high. This episode reappears briefly in the finale, where the carefree mood is interrupted. Meanwhile hints of Brahms (and of Elgar) are glimpsed on the way to a grand climax, back in the home key.

Compared to Stanford’s Second Piano Concerto this work is less abundantly melodic and less convincing in its writing for the piano, yet Binns and Braithwaite still offer a persuasive case for it. Even more so the Cello Concerto, where the real appeal of this disc can be found.

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