Stanford: Piano Concerto No. 2 & Works for Solo Piano

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LABELS: Champs Hill
WORKS: Piano Concerto No. 2; Dante Rhapsodies, Op. 92; Five Caprices, Op 136 – selection; Six Characteristic Pieces, Op. 132 – selection
PERFORMER: Benjamin Frith (piano); BBC National Orchestra of Wales/Andrew Gourlay


The compulsive fluency of Stanford’s music is part of its charm. The large-scale, three movement Second Piano Concerto, completed in 1911, sits comfortably in Stanford’s often-favoured Brahms-to-Dvorák territory; generous quantities of sturdy material in the outer movements are offset by a musing, fantastical streak which comes likeably into its own in the central Adagio molto. Benjamin Frith’s advocacy is state-of-the-art (does any pianist around draw a lovelier sound from the keyboard, or phrase more naturally?), and the orchestra’s contribution under Andrew Gourlay is excellently vivid and anti-routine.

Yet the most memorable part of this release comes in the choice of solo piano works, again superbly played by Frith. Compared to the rather lightweight Characteristic Pieces and Caprices, the three Dante Rhapsodies are a far more ambitious and striking creation, together making up a 30-minute cycle drawing on scenes from Dante’s Inferno. ‘Francesca’, based on the Francesca da Rimini story, has a memorable lyrical surge and sweep; and ‘Beatrice’ finds Stanford exploring Lisztian territory with a poignant sensibility recalling Liszt’s own example. The concluding ‘Capaneo’ portrays, rather too politely, the furiously Jupiter-defying king and military commander from ancient Greece.


Malcolm Hayes