Charles Villiers STANFORD (1852-1924)
Complete Music for Piano Solo - Volume 2
Two Novellettes (1874) [10:03]
Suite, op.2 (c.1875) [12:36]
Fare Well (1916) [7:51]
Six Song-Tunes (1919/20) [6:23]
A Toy Story (For the Children (1919/20) [8:44]
Ten Dances (Old and New) for Young Players, op.58 (1894) [23:55]
Toccata in C major, op.3 (1875) [4:36]
Sonatina in D minor (1922) [9:34]
Sonatina in G major (1922) [10:06]
Twenty Four Preludes in all the keys, op.179 (1920) [52:37]
Christopher Howell (piano)
rec. Studio of Griffa and Figli s.r.l., Milan, Italy, 29 October 2013, 14 January, 6 May, 9 September 2014
SHEVA SH125 [74.23 + 72:32]

The second volume in this Complete Stanford solo piano series carries on the good work of the first (review). This includes a much improved booklet look, which ensures that it is now as attractively presented as the series deserves.

Christopher Howell has avoided a strictly chronological survey. He is also responsible for the performing edition of the Two Novellettes, and this first recording has ensured that despite its unnecessary girth, we can hear the kernel of something interesting in the A minor. The axis of influence in these 1874 works is somewhere between Schumann and Schubert. The following year in his Suite, Op.2 Stanford was celebrating a quartet of baroque dance pieces, of which the most infectious is surely the Gigue. The beautiful song at the heart Fare Well elevates this otherwise somewhat rudimentary piece composed in memoriam for Kitchener of Khartoum, dating from the year of Kitchener’s untimely death in 1916. This volume presents next a trio of light-hearted fare. The Six Song-Tunes were published in 1920 and receive their premiere recording. There’s simple charm in abundance in these felicitous little works, though the fifth in the set, Dance Tune, has added warmth and personalisation. A Toy Story (For the Children) was written around the same time and is also heard in its first-ever recording. There’s perkily vigorous Postman and the quiet tristesse of The Broken Toy to enjoy. None of the settings breaks the two-minute mark. Fresh air infiltrates the opening Valse of the Ten Dances (Old and New) for Young Players, Op.58, completed in 1894. Two of the set were recorded in orchestral versions by Stanford in 1916 and they will still be familiar to those who long ago savoured every example they could find of Stanford - and other composer-conductors of the acoustic era - on disc. Very different is the last piece in the first CD, the Toccata in C major, a bold Opus 3 completed in 1875 and clearly patterned on Schumann’s similarly titled work. It’s not relentlessly virtuosic but has an appealing self-confidence and brio about it.

The two Sonatinas of 1922 offer appealing contrasts, quiet wit, and droll little dissonances. Of some interest is the calmly searching Adagio of the G major which has just enough in it to derail an inattentive student. These are interesting documents, adroitly played by Howell in what are – again – premiere recordings. This leaves the 1920 Twenty-Four Preludes in all the keys, Op.179 which certainly has been recorded before, by Peter Jacobs. It’s this work that has the best of Stanford in this twofer, and there’s much to detain the listener. There’s the grandeur of the opening C major, the bravado of the C sharp minor, the unaffected nobility of the E flat major and the verdant E flat minor – where Stanford suddenly turns into Sinding and his Rustle of Spring. There’s a slightly pawky Waltz in the shape of the E minor, a stern left hand in the terse F minor, a powerful F sharp minor majoring in basso ostinato, and a clever use of recitativo in the G minor. A baroque sequence offers a Sarabande very different, and very much more austere, than the 1894 Sarabande of the Ten Dances set. A virtuosic A minor is attractive but so too is the unexpectedly intense funeral march that is the B flat minor even though it lightens in feeling. The Addio, No.24, the final Prelude. is perhaps the more private and intimate side of the more public Funeral March – a touching and quietly reflective five minutes to end a cycle that Howell plays and characterises with conspicuous skill and awareness of its different and changeable qualities.

Very properly his article on Stanford the Pianist is reprised in this volume – some people will be coming to it for the first time. There’s fine recording quality too. Volume 3 awaits.

Jonathan Woolf

Previous review: John France
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