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Monday, March 17, 2008

Fine Symphonies by Stanford

Charles Villiers STANFORD (1852-1924)

Symphony No. 2 in D minor, “Elegiac” (1880) [34:46]
Symphony No. 5 in D major, “L’Allegro ed il Penseroso” Op. 56. (1894) [39:47]

Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra
David Lloyd-Jones

Recorded in The Concert Hall, Lighthouse, Poole, Dorset, UK on 29-30 June and 25-26 July 2006.

NAXOS 8.570289 [74:33]

Sir Charles Villiers Stanford was born to a family of Dublin lawyers in 1852. He, along with Hubert Parry, was one of the two most significant British composers prior to Elgar and he did much to advance the cause of British music. After study at Queen’s College, Cambridge, he was appointed organist at Trinity College. After study in Germany, he returned to Cambridge where he instigated many reforms in the musical establishment. He would later be appointed to the newly formed Royal College of Music, where he would teach such luminaries as Bridge, Butterworth, Moeran and Vaughan Williams. He is often credited with beginning the revival of British composition that would produce great composers from the above-mentioned all the way to Sir Peter Maxwell Davies.

His seven symphonies are the cornerstone of his output. Carefully crafted and vigorous in nature, they never really wander outside of the model set forth by Mendelssohn, Brahms and Schumann. Although the second symphony is titled “Elegiac” there is nothing particularly mournful about the work, which begins with an energetic and tuneful opening movement, followed by a warm and perhaps somewhat melancholy slow movement, a brisk minor key scherzo and a structured and climactic finale.

David Lloyd-Jones leads his Bournemouth charges in a taut, well paced performance. The romantic nature of the music is taken seriously, yet Lloyd-Jones never indulges in overt sentimentality, always keeping up a steady, even, forward line. The orchestra sounds warm and rich, particularly in movements two and four, and there is some superior playing from the orchestra’s winds. Of particular merit is the second movement lento, in which Lloyd-Jones sets a most lovely tone, bathing us in sound akin to the perfect swim; in waters that are the perfect temperature. There is plenty of energy in the resounding last movement, all delivered with the appropriate English restraint.

The Symphony No. 5 is a horse of a different color. Based on two contrasting poems of John Milton, Stanford is far more overtly dramatic in this score, going so far as quote rather lengthy sections of the poetry in the score. Reflective of the poetry which describes horrors, shrieks and other such nastiness, the symphony opens with raucous brass and tympani followed by busy strings and woodwinds. It never loses its energy from start to finish. The second movement is a remarkable contrast to the first. Tuneful and jolly, this is gracious and endearing music.
The cream here is the stunningly beautiful third movement based on verses from Il Penseroso. This is perhaps what Elgar should sound like: nostalgic, sweeping melodies, warm brass laden orchestration yet never bottom heavy. The Bournemouth pull this music out of their instruments at the perfect degree of tension, sending the listener up one mountain summit after another, wrapped in an exquisitely woven blanket of sound. The work ends with a confident final movement marked by an underpinning of pulsating string figures capped by soaring and hopeful melodies.

For those of you who enjoy the work of the German romantics, you will most likely find this music most enjoyable. While it is quite a bit less ponderous than its German cousins, it still contains enough gravitas to satisfy the musical soul searcher, yet veers often enough into a light-hearted realm that seekers of beautiful melodies will leave just as happy.

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