Notes and Editorial Reviews
It's strange that a country so unapologetic about its nationalist enthusiasms, particularly during the Victorian period when Britannia truly "ruled the waves" and was the greatest colonial power in the world, singularly failed to produce a distinctive musical style until Elgar, Holst, and Vaughan Williams really got going. Prior to 1900, and for many composers well past that date, the predominant quality ruling the English symphony was fear: of not following the rules, of not being as good as the Germans, of doing something too unique, or interesting, or surprising, or (God forbid) controversial. Now plenty of German composers fell into this category as well, but the English really had no excuse for working so hard to vanquish any
vestige of originality from their music.
Stanford is a case in point. He was surely a talent: his concertos and non-symphonic orchestral works are quite attractive. The Irish Rhapsodies are delightful. He could write excellent individual movements. For example, at 14 minutes the slow movement of the Sixth symphony seems out of proportion to its surroundings, and yet it contains by far the freshest and most memorable melodic inspiration in the entire work. There's no question as to Stanford's sincerity or depth of feeling, and it's beautifully played here. But his allegro opening movements and finales stubbornly fail to catch fire. Three out of four of them here are qualified with the term "moderato", and that is precisely the problem. Seldom has a genuinely talented composer worked so hard and determinedly to produce such tepid results.
That said, the "Irish" Symphony is by far Stanford's best, the charm of the tunes making up for the stiff handling of form and lack of drama. The same can't be said of the first movement and finale of the Sixth, despite the promising opening of the former, as well as its relative brevity. Certainly David Lloyd-Jones and his players offer committed performances, easily equal to the competition on Chandos, and the engineering is satisfyingly natural. If you're curious about Stanford's symphonic output, this is clearly the place to start. A nice, warm bath is relaxing now and then, even if most listeners will prefer something a little more bracing at both ends of the temperature spectrum.
--David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com
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