The fourth Irish Rhapsody (of
six) is a hauntingly atmospheric piece.
The score is headed with the line, ‘The
Fisherman of Lough Neagh and what he
saw’. The cor anglais solos of the opening
section are beautifully played in this
recording (representing Lough Neagh
in the morning mist) and the later ‘Allegro
alla marcia’ has real life. Orchestral
balance is miraculous and Braithwaite’s
sense of the music’s flow is perfect.
The music rises to a rousing conclusion.
All in all, this performance
makes one keen to hear the other Irish
Rhapsodies (Nos. 3 and 6 of which,
by the way, are mini-concertos for cello
and violin respectively). Vernon Handley’s
performance with the Ulster Orchestra
on Chandos brings competition, yet this
Lyrita will not disappoint. It would
in fact make sense to own both, as Handley’s
mid-price Chandos two-disc set includes
all of the Irish Rhapsodies (unfortunately
it also duplicates the Second Piano
Concerto – CHAN10116X).
The ‘Funeral March’
comes from music for Tennyson’s tragedy
Becket (Tennyson had made a point
of requesting that Stanford write the
music for his play). If we are to believe
Geoffrey Bush’s booklet notes, the opening
may well represent the Archbishop being
attacked – it is certainly significantly
more violent than anything that follows.
Boult conducts this with his customary
care, presenting the long lines with
a direct approach that avoids any hint
of cloying sentimentality.
The Second Piano Concerto
begins like Rachmaninov in its swirls
of arpeggios – it is no coincidence,
surely, that Stanford was the conductor
of the British premiere of Rachmaninov’s
Second Concerto at the Leeds Festival
in 1910. Here, Malcolm Binns is rather
bangy in his approach to the first movement,
contrasting with the LSO’s rather more
suave take on things. The recording,
too, does not seem to flatter the piano.
The second movement
(Adagio molto) fares much better. Lyrical
and highly Romantic (just listen to
those Rachmaninovian cello gestures!),
there is much tenderness in evidence
here. This lyricism spills over into
parts of the finale, to contrast with
its more viscerally exciting moments.
Binns manages to find delicacy in the
This is an invaluable
Stanford collection. The Irish Rhapsody
No. 4 is a marvellous discovery.