Stanford

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COMPOSERS: Stanford
LABELS: Resonus
ALBUM TITLE: Stanford: Organ works, Vol. 2
WORKS: Organ works
PERFORMER: Simon Nieminski (organ)
CATALOGUE NO: RES10130

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Despite a huge compositional output, Charles Villiers Stanford’s reputation rests today largely – and not unfairly – on his church music. Some of his symphonies, operas and string quartets really deserve to be better known, but it is harder to make a convincing case for his organ music, which seldom rises above the generic in its inspiration. Since some of the best pieces were already ‘used up’ in the first volume of Resonus’s survey, this new release traverses some quite unrewarding thickets, notwithstanding sensitive performances from organist Simon Niemi´nski, who is always alert to the musical possibilities of the material.

The most significant piece is the Organ Sonata No. 1, the first of five sonatas Stanford wrote for the instrument during late World War I. Its three compact movements are unconventional in their structure, and Niemi´nski makes the most of the work’s rhapsodic opening and its grandiose conclusion. The music sounds ‘in period’ thanks to the 1913 organ of the Freemasons’ Hall in Edinburgh, yet the instrument’s diapason-rich tone is sometimes muddy and seldom exciting; it’s a town-hall sound and much of the music, not least the opening March Eroica, seems designed for a town-hall audience. Two world premiere recordings, including of The Angelus, Op. 194 (the composer’s last opus number), will appeal to Stanford completists.

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John Allison