Stanford Symphonies – 2 (2 & 5)

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Stanford
Symphony No.2 in D minor (Elegiac)
Symphony No.5 in D, Op.124 (L’Allegro ed il Penseroso)

Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra
David Lloyd-Jones

Recorded 29 & 30 June and 25 & 26 July 2006 in The Concert Hall, Lighthouse, Poole, Dorset


Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: April 2008
CD No: NAXOS 8.570289
Duration: 75 minutes

The second volume of Naxos and David Lloyd-Jones’s survey of Sir Charles Villiers Stanford’s seven symphonies couples together two fine examples of this composer’s art.

The ‘Elegiac’ Symphony (seemingly without opus number), the score of which includes lines from Tennyson’s “In Memoriam”, rather belies its composer-given subtitle, and begins with an energetic and expressive first movement. Listening to Stanford’s music is to find references to Dvořák, Mendelssohn and Schumann; there is also an English quality (Stanford, 1852-1924, was born in Dublin and died in London) which means citing Elgar in the mix. Nevertheless, Stanford is part of a particular milieu and wrote some skilful and attractive music without stepping outside of his chosen boundaries. After the outgoing first movement the eloquence and deep heart of the slow second one – it’s here that the symphony’s elegiac nature is at its most pronounced – is a particularly lovely example of deeply-felt melody. The succeeding scherzo is an ebullient affair, rhythmically vital (and in something of a ‘hunting’ mode’ and with echoes of Franz Berwald’s mercurial lightness of touch). A symphony of contrasts, the Adagio introduction to the finale bears the composer’s soul before moods heroic and pastoral are set in opposition to set-up a quite determined and inventive close.

The Fifth Symphony, its subtitle taken from Milton, the score incorporating lines from these two poems of his (reproduced in the booklet) is the more ambitious work and one senses the extra-musical stimulus in music that in the first movement is proud and incisive, quite frolicsome at times followed by a bucolic intermezzo-like that is pure charm. The proportions of the work are such that the slow movement and the finale are the most substantial; the former being a particularly rapturous example of Stanford’s creativity, blissful and poetic, with the fragmentary opening of the finale being quite potent with an explorative theme growing in stealth and with a noble chorale given to brass. The relaxed confidence of this movement (the longest of the work) is superbly sustained in this performance) to which an organ adds another layer of sonority en route to a radiant conclusion.

These two impressive works, with many beauties and felicities, are given sympathetic and insightful performances and afforded airy and focussed sound. One looks forward to the next volume and to express further pleasure at Naxos’s initiative in making this splendid music so easily available.

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