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Suite Op.32
Violin Concerto Op.74
Anthony Marwood (violin)
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchesta/Martyn Brabbins
Recorded 2000
HYPERION CDA 6720 8 [66.40]  
The Romantic Violin Concerto - 2

I have particularly enjoyed this disc, being much involved as I am with such turn-of-the-century (19th to 20th that is) music and musicians, indeed only next month (December 16th) I am conducting the violin concerto featured here together with another long-forgotten gem, Frederic Cliffe's Symphony No.1. The works are right up Hyperion's street, and as a result of this fine disc the concerto at least should hopefully find its way back into the concert hall from which it had disappeared as long ago as 1918. Stanford wrote quite extensively for the violin and was well-connected to such players as Joachim, Kreisler, Rivarde and the Spaniard Arbos, who was a colleague on the staff of London's Royal College of Music where both men taught. Stanford was also an experienced orchestral conductor and knew the violin concerto repertoire from Mendelssohn to Brahms, so he understood 'the ethos of the grand Romantic concerto' as Jeremy Dibble puts it in his richly-informative booklet notes (he is currently working on a biography of Stanford). Stanford, aged 36 in 1888, was enjoying huge success with three operas and an equal number of symphonies (including the popular 'Irish'), a serenade, choral works (including a Birmingham Festival commission 'The Three Holy Children'), chamber music, church music and songs already to his credit. His fame had also spread to Europe, and to Germany in particular. Joachim did as much for him in Berlin as Stanford had done for his friend in London and Cambridge, where back in 1877 the two men had put on an unforgettable Brahms concert. A concert was planned for January 1889 in Berlin devoted entirely to Stanford's music, and the composer wrote his Suite Op.32 for Joachim to play at this event.

The Suite is in five movements which juxtapose antique music with modern (i.e. 18th with 19th centuries) perhaps taking a leaf from suites by Grieg (Holberg) and Tchaikovsky (Mozartiana), yet the work is also a musical portrait of Joachim himself, written in homage to the championing by the violinist of music from Bach to Brahms. It has a striking start, an extended solo as if it were an unaccompanied work by Bach himself with strongly double-dotted rhythms, the Tambourin and the Allemande, both short interludes, have shades of Mendelssohn (Joachim played that composer's concerto under his direction), the Ballade brings it 'up-to-date' to Brahms.

The concerto was written a decade later in 1899 and dedicated to Arbos with whom the composer premièred the work in Bournemouth in March 1901, and it is a grand work in the best sense. The substantial first movement is tightly structured, the Canzona with its gloriously Bruch-like melodious second subject is revelatory, the Irish jig (marked 'Gaelic air' in the score) to conclude is perhaps too short and trivial after two such fine movements (Parry considered the concerto among Stanford's finest works). Why it did not establish itself remains a mystery, but thank Heaven there are the Jeremy Dibbles, Lewis Foremans, Ted Perrys and Hyperions of this world to rediscover this rich period of British music.

Recorded in Greyfriars Church, Edinburgh the weekend after a studio broadcast in Glasgow on Radio 3 and before an invited audience, Anthony Marwood plays both works wonderfully, with fervour and commitment. I had the pleasure of conducting this gifted violinist in a competition performance of the Mendelssohn concerto (with which he won) back in the 1980s when he was a student at the Guildhall School of Music, and he now leads the successful Florestan Trio, winners of this year's Royal Philharmonic Best Ensemble Award, as well as following a solo career, but we need to hear and see more of him. He is ably supported by excellent playing from the BBCSO under the sensitive conducting of the ever-versatile Martyn Brabbins, the spacious sound of Hyperion's recording is to their highest standard.

Christopher Fifield



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