Symphony No.3 in F minor, Op.28 (Irish)
Symphony No.6 in E flat, Op.94 (In honour of the life-work of a great artist: George Frederick Watts)
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra
Recorded 25 & 26 July 2006 and 18 & 19 June 2007 in The Concert Hall, Lighthouse, Poole, Dorset
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: August 2008
CD No: NAXOS 8.570355
Duration: 80 minutes
The third volume of Naxos and David Lloyd-Jones’s survey of Sir Charles Villiers Stanford’s seven symphonies is a generous coupling: a symphony that was a great success (the ‘Irish’) and one (written in memory of George Frederick Watts) that fell by the wayside early on.
It’s the latter work that begins this disc. The Sixth Symphony, dedicated to the British artist George Frederick Watts (1817-1904), written quickly but with no indication of haste, opens ebulliently, Stanford’s compositional prowess appealingly evident throughout the concentrated first movement (stylistically clinging-hold of the previous century) and including a touch violin solo. Strange then that although the composer launched the work himself, with the then newly founded London Symphony Orchestra in January 1906, only one other performance took place before 80 years of silence (to a time no doubt when Vernon Handley took the work up as part of his Stanford recordings for Chandos).
Further questioning as to this symphony’s neglect comes with the slow movement, a particularly beautiful and touching creation that may just suggest the Largo of Dvořák’s ‘New World’ Symphony (then about 10 years old), partly because Stanford highlights the cor anglais. As this lengthy movement progresses it becomes more solemn en route to a baleful brass-dominated summons, the scherzo that follows being a fleet response and itself expertly transformed into a proud finale that seems both impetuous and optimistic before concluding quietly and radiantly.
Stanford’s Sixth Symphony is a fine piece, both in invention and construction – and not knowing the canvases of George Frederick Watts need not be a barrier to appreciating Stanford’s often-moving tribute to him; divorce the sub-title from the work and one has an ingenious symphony very much worth getting to know and to enjoy as an alternative version to the afore-mentioned Handley version.
By contrast, the Dublin-born Stanford’s ‘Irish’ Symphony (completed and first heard in 1887) was immediately and enduringly popular for many years. (Sir Arthur Sullivan also composed an ‘Irish’ Symphony, which David Lloyd-Jones has recorded.) Typically, although Irish folk-music is employed, Stanford’s allegiance to traditional Austro-German models is manifest across the four movements, the first of which is an expansive (and patrician) affair offset by the jigging motion of the second movement and the evocative writing for harp at the beginning of the third, this latter movement seeming to inhabit the power and mystery of the Irish landscape. (Maybe a horn motif, beginning at 9’43”, is consciously very close to the opening of the second movement of Brahms’s Fourth Symphony, composed a couple of years before?) The finale relishes a patriotic air. some imaginative variegation and contrasts allowing the majestic coda to be a well-timed and stirring summation.
Both symphonies, as in the previous releases, are treated to respectful and sympathetic performances, well recorded within a slightly too ambient acoustic, and recommended for music now considered to be off the beaten track but thoroughly deserving of our attention.