Stanford: Symphonies, Vol. 2: No. 2 (Elegiac); No. 5 (L’Allegro ed il Penseroso)

COMPOSERS: Stanford
LABELS: Naxos
ALBUM TITLE: Stanford
WORKS: Symphonies, Vol. 2: No. 2 (Elegiac); No. 5 (L’Allegro ed il Penseroso)
PERFORMER: Bournemouth SO/David Lloyd-Jones
CATALOGUE NO: 8.570289
The second volume in Naxos’s series of Charles Villiers Stanford’s symphonies contains two rarities, even in his lifetime, of apparent literary inspiration. The Second, Elegiac, of 1880 is prefaced by lines from Tennyson’s ‘In Memoriam’, though it seems a work less of personal mourning than of elevated seriousness. Its idiom is obviously indebted to Beethoven, Mendelssohn and Schumann; it also persistently calls Brahms and Dvo?ák to mind until you realise that it predates its apparent models, Brahms’s Third and Dvo?ák’s Seventh symphonies.

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In much the same stylistic vein is the Fifth of 1894. This takes as its starting-point Milton’s ‘L’Allegro ed il Penseroso’, but unlike Handel’s oratorio it keeps Milton’s two philosophical characters apart,

with two cheerful movements followed by two thoughtful ones. Both symphonies contain some attractive ideas, they’re beautifully scored and carefully worked out, and they make enjoyable listening – even if they seem to lack the last ounce of distinctiveness.

David Lloyd-Jones certainly makes a strong case for both, and the excellent Bournemouth players respond with collective discipline

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and solo expressivity. Vernon Handley with the Ulster Orchestra on Chandos perhaps makes more of the slow movements, at broader tempos, and in the finale of No. 5 the ‘pealing organ’ of the Ulster Hall is a plus. But the playing is occasionally untidy; and, unlike Stephen Johnson in his review of Volume 1 in the July issue, I find the Belfast hall’s swimmy acoustic can become wearing. So for me Naxos’s outstandingly clear but warm recording just tips the balance for the newcomer. Anthony Burton