When a composer’s suppressed and unfinished works make it onto
CD it can fairly be said he’s arrived!
Stanford’s first work for solo instrument and orchestra was a Rondo
in F for cello (1869) which is not known to have been performed.
It was followed by a Piano Concerto in B flat (1873), a Violin
Concerto in D (1875) and the Cello Concerto recorded here,
of which only the first achieved a performance. These early
works were all suppressed, but not destroyed, by Stanford.
The Rondo and the earlier two concerto are juvenilia indeed,
pre-dating the First Symphony, though Jeremy Dibble’s descriptions
of them (Charles Villiers Stanford: Man and Musician,
OUP 2002) suggest they may be worth a hearing at some stage.
The Cello Concerto has always struck me as a more enticing
proposition, partly because it is roughly contemporary with
the rather impressive Second Symphony and partly because
romantic cello concertos are not exactly numerous.
The concerto was written for Robert Hausmann, who had given
performances of Stanford’s First Cello Sonata in both England and Germany – see
Jonathan Woolf’s review of
the recording of this by Alison Moncrieff Kelly and the undersigned.
The composer submitted the work to Hausmann for suggestions
over the cello part and duly made a revised version. However,
only the slow movement was ever played, at Cambridge in 1884,
in an arrangement with piano accompaniment. The space for
a cadenza in the first movement was left blank and has been
filled by Alexander Baillie for this recording.
The first movement actually sounds more Irish than anything
in the Second Symphony. The challenging opening gesture and
soloist’s lyrical answer are consistent with the opening
gambit of the Clarinet Concerto op.80 (1902) and certain
phrases anticipate the first movement of the Second Piano
Concerto op.126 (1911). They are not exactly the same, but
every time I heard this movement I found bits of the later
work running through my head afterwards. Aside from this,
the first movement is an impressive affair, its contrasting
materials confidently laid out. Stanford adopts the Mendelssohnian
principle of a shared exposition rather than an orchestral
ritornello and the dialogue between the cello and the wind
soloists at the start of the development is particularly
The themes of the slow movement have not yet lodged in my
mind but my attention was always held. Stanford was already
of continuous thematic development so the listener’s interest
is constantly renewed. This makes a striking contrast with
the slow movement of the Violin Concerto I recently discussed by
Stanford’s little-appreciated teacher Reinecke, where a strong
initial idea is gradually brought to nothing because the
composer just goes round and round in circles. An amiable
finale in something like polka-rhythm concludes a concerto
which should logically be a welcome addition to cellists’ repertoire.
Don’t expect an Irish counterpart to Dvořák’s masterpiece – which
had not yet been written. Nor will you find that Elgar’s
much-loved work has had a glorious British partner all these
years and nobody ever knew. But I’d sooner hear the Stanford
than the Schumann or the Saint-Saëns cello concertos, none
of which have ever done as much for me as their composers’ names
suggest they should.
I have no faults to find in Baillie’s performance, but I do wonder
if he hasn’t overreached himself in the cadenza. Lewis Foreman
tells us that it “ranges widely over Stanford’s thematic
material” but, for better or worse, it goes further than
that. At its sombre heart it introduces an Irish folksong
from the Petrie collection, called there simply “Caoine”,
which Stanford also arranged under the title of “The Falling
Star” op.76/18 (1901) and used in his Second Irish Rhapsody
op.82 (1903). I don’t know if Baillie believes there is a
thematic connection between the folksong and Stanford’s own
themes in the Concerto. I don’t find one, except insofar
as the main theme of the Concerto first movement begins with
a wide upward interval followed by gently falling ones, a
characteristic of many Irish melodies of a certain type.
Apart from the Caoine in question, “The Last Rose of Summer” is
another example which most readers will easily recall. The
result is a piece that might be impressive played on its
own as a sort of Irish Ballade for solo cello, but is simply
too long – and too sombre? – for the context.
At the height of his fame, Stanford was quite successful
in getting his concertos and other works for solo instrument
performed by famous artists. The Suite in D op.32 for violin
(1888) was premiered in Berlin by Joachim, the “official” First
Piano Concerto op.59 (1894) was played by Leonard Borwick
and was also heard in Berlin; it was Borwick again who presented
the Concert Variations on an English Theme op.71 (c.1897-8)
while Arbos, and later Kreisler, played the “official” First
Violin Concerto op.74 (1899). These have all been recorded
and links to reviews are given below.
With the dawning of the 20th century Stanford
was beginning to look old-fashioned and things got more difficult.
might be Mühlfeld’s refusal to play the Clarinet Concerto
op.80 (1902). Despite occasional outings, recognition of
this as one of the very few romantic clarinet concertos of
real stature was hampered by lack of publication until 1977.
The Second Piano Concerto op.126 (1911) had to wait some
time for its first performance (Norfolk, Connecticut 1915)
though eventually Moiseiwitsch took it up. The Third Irish
Rhapsody op.137 (1913), for cello and orchestra, is not known
to have been performed at all until 1987.
During the difficult war years Stanford was able to conduct both his
First Violin Concerto and his Second Piano Concerto with
the RCM orchestra. The soloist in the former was Margaret
Harrison, sister of the better-remembered May and Beatrice.
The experience seems to have unlocked a new spate of concertos
and other pieces for solo instrument and orchestra: the Ballata
and Ballabile op.160 for cello and orchestra (1918), the
Irish Concertino op.161 for violin and cello (1918), the
Second Violin Concerto op.162 (1918), the Third Piano Concerto
op.171 (1919), the Variations for violin and orchestra op.180
(1921), the Concert Piece for organ, brass, drums and strings
op.181 (1921) and the Sixth Irish Rhapsody for violin and
orchestra (1922). Only the Irish Concertino and the Sixth
Rhapsody, plus Ballata and Ballabile in a version
with piano accompaniment, were heard during Stanford’s lifetime.
Three of these works – the two Concertos and the Variations – exist
only in short scores with the orchestral part reduced for
piaNo. Simon Rodmell (Charles Villiers Stanford, Ashgate
2002) and Lewis Foreman, in the notes to the present CD,
presume the full scores have been lost. Jeremy Dibble, however,
has suggested that they may never have been written. Given
the speed at which Stanford was composing all this, the short
scores would have been sufficient to submit to potential
soloists and the composer’s consummate technique would have
enabled him to supply a full score quickly if a performance
was actually promised. I must say I find this entirely plausible – the
existence of three roughly contemporary works in the same
state hardly seems a coincidence. The late Geoffrey Bush,
a great admirer of Stanford and of the Second Piano Concerto
in particular – he provided the sleeve-note for the Lyrita
LP – undertook the orchestration of the Third Piano Concerto.
In view of the quality of the music which now emerges it
is to be hoped that Jeremy Dibble, who has already orchestrated
the choral cantata “Merlin and the Gleam” – the full score
of which was lost when a Stainer & Bell warehouse collapsed
into the Wash – will provide us with the means to hear the
two violin works.
Stanfordian as I am, I have nevertheless never been entirely
happy with either of the first two Piano Concertos. The opening
of No. 1 is so entrancing that it always arouses new hopes
of finding more in it than before. Yet the discrepancy between
a work which is avowedly of a “bright and butterfly nature” and
one which lasts nearly 40 minutes does not go away with repeated
hearings and I continue to find it agreeable, but inflated
The themes of No. 2 are of a stronger cut and are easily recalled.
And yet, even here I tend to find Stanford blustering where
he intends to exult, perhaps in the hope of convincing us
that this really is a long piece – nearly 40 minutes again – rather
than a shorter one blown up. I was far happier with the expansive
First Violin Concerto, which struck me as a possible masterpiece,
while the Clarinet Concerto is a succinct, formally ingenious
work whose beauties are surely recognized by now.
In terms of scale, the Third Piano Concerto yields little to the other
two. However, each theme carries its contrasting pendant
with it, providing the first movement with a greater thematic
richness than previously. The themes and their pendants are
continually transformed and mingled with the result that
what appears to be more rhapsodic than before is actually
the most rigorously controlled of the three first movements.
It sustains its 18 minutes with breathtaking mastery.
Nor does inspiration flag in the slow movement. The piano’s
first entry is magically prepared, and it then unfolds a
of great beauty and simplicity. This is subsequently developed
in a series of variations until a darker mood is reached,
leading to the most overtly passionate music in the concerto.
The original mood is not regained; instead the finale breaks
out with a sort of impish humour which should have been tailor-made
for Moiseiwitsch. The secondary material is gently poetic,
distinctly Irish. In the Second Concerto Stanford attempted
to inflate such material into a grand finale, but perhaps
he came to see that what was true to Rachmaninov was not
true to him. He ends in a mood of touching reminiscence,
just breaking off for a brief, deft and humorous final pay-off.
I hope I will still feel the same way in ten or twenty years’ time.
Right now this seems to me easily the finest of Stanford’s
piano concertos, a rich masterpiece and one of the few British
romantic piano concertos with a real claim to international
Malcolm Binns probably has a longer experience of Stanford’s piano
music than any other pianist before the public. He made the
first recording of the Second Concerto back in the days of
LP, but I recollect him playing the Dante Rhapsodies on the
radio even before that and I believe he has broadcast a number
of the other solo works. He plays the gentler passages of
this concerto with exquisite sensitivity. Unfortunately,
in the forte passages he reveals the same failing I have
noted in the past, namely a sort of vertical bashing, with
heavily biffed-out accents, rather than maintaining a horizontal,
rounded, singing tone in the thickest textures, or a sparkling
lightness in the brilliant passages. This failing, technical
rather musical I feel, is less noticeable in the Third Concerto
than in the Second, simply because the music itself is gentler,
and I therefore do not wish to make too much of it. I don’t
know what alternatives we are likely to have, or when. This
is music that should be heard, and more of it is beautifully
played than not.
Nicholas Braithwaite was also Binns’ partner in the Second Concerto,
as well as conducting a Fourth Rhapsody which is notably
more musical than that under Vernon Handley. Once again,
he is unfailingly musical and flexible in his response to
the soloists, though without seeking the ultimate in dynamic
shading or precision of ensemble. But let’s face it, the
news could have been infinitely worse. The recordings are
excellent, as are Foreman’s notes. Why are Lyrita so reluctant
to give details of recording dates, venues, producers and
see also reviews by John
France and Rob
Full Lyrita catalogue
Links to other reviews of
King (Hyperion): myself (includes
comparisons with Thomson and Hilton)
Thurston (Symposium, 1952 performance): Jonathan
Suite op.32 & Violin Concerto
Marwood (Hyperion): myself and Chris
Piano Concerto No. 1
Lane (Hyperion): myself
and Raymond Walker
Piano Concerto No. 2
Binns (Lyrita): Colin
Jetter (Antes): Rob
Fingerhut (Chandos, w/Concert Variations
on an English Theme):
Also referred to above is
the folksong arrangement “The Stolen Heart”. This is included
in a recital by Ann Murray on Hyperion, reviewed by
The Concert Piece for Organ,
Brass, Drums and Strings op.181 was recorded by Gillian Weir/Vernon
Handley on CHAN 8861 but was not reviewed by MusicWeb and
may not be currently available.
The Ballata (only) of the Ballata
and Ballabile can be heard, in its cello and piano
version, on the Cello
Sonata disc mentioned above.