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Sir Charles Villiers STANFORD (1852-1924)
Irish Rhapsody No. 4 in A minor, Op. 141a (1913) [18’52]. Becket, Op. 48 (1893) - Funeral March, ‘The Martyrdomb [6’45]. Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 126c (1911) [37’32].
cMalcolm Binns (piano); abLondon Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Adrian Boult; cLondon Symphony Orchestra/Nicholas Braithwaite;.
No rec. info. Rec. of Piano Concerto No. 2 made in association with RVW Trust. ADD
LYRITA RECORDED EDITION SRCD219
[63’20]


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 finale also.

This is an invaluable Stanford collection. The Irish Rhapsody No. 4 is a marvellous discovery.
 
Colin Clarke

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