38 Stanford Preludes from the two sets of 24 Preludes brought to life by Sam Haywood

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: 38 Preludes from the two sets of 24 Preludes, Opp. 163 & 179
PERFORMER: Sam Haywood (piano)

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Last year brought Christopher Howell’s complete recording of Stanford’s 48 Preludes in all the keys – music written in the First World War’s shadow, but shadowed far more by Schumann, Brahms, Bach and other keyboard masters of the past. Now Sam Haywood arrives with a very different approach. Where Howell worked through the sets with scholastic purity, Haywood scrambles the running order, omits ten of the weaker brethren, and adds in one case a shortened reprise. Piano tone and recording acoustic are richer, audible from the first pealing notes of the ‘Carillon’ prelude from Op. 163. Howell’s issue remains a valuable document, but it’s Haywood who offers a living performance, coloured with the Romantic aura that even clings to the preludes modelled after Baroque dance forms.

Yet even with Haywood’s panache, the music here largely brings pleasure only in moderation. Stanford’s imagination is often lively, but with pieces rarely stretching beyond two minutes his best ideas never seem to reach their full potential. This is especially regrettable with the sets’ two solemn war meditations – small granite monuments among the waltzes, caprices and other fripperies from a composer in the twilight, writing perhaps more to keep busy than to fulfil a creative need.

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Geoff Brown