Stanford: Symphony No. 3 (Irish); Symphony No. 6 (In honour of GF Watts)

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WORKS: Symphony No. 3 (Irish); Symphony No. 6 (In honour of GF Watts)
PERFORMER: Bournemouth SO/David Lloyd-Jones
CATALOGUE NO: 8.570335


Stanford’s Irish Symphony of 1887 was hugely popular in his lifetime, and not just in Britain: it was played throughout Europe, and Mahler conducted it in New York. The composer’s fellow-Irishman George Bernard Shaw thought it ‘a record of a fearful conflict between the aboriginal Celt and the Professor’. But the first movement is beautifully atmospheric, the gleeful jig-scherzo and the harp-introduced slow movement sound authentically Irish, and the folk tunes in the finale provide a rousing conclusion. Much less successful was the Sixth, inscribed ‘in honour of the life-work of a great artist: George Frederick Watts’: after two performances in 1906, it was forgotten for many years. Still, the first movement, suggested by Watts’s equestrian statue of Physical Energy in Kensington Gardens, moves with an invigorating swing, and there’s a fine slow movement with an opening cor anglais melody – perhaps a memorial to Dvoπák who like Watts had died in 1904. In the exceptionally well-filled third volume of their Stanford series, David Lloyd-Jones and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra offer accomplished and sympathetic performances, though fogged by excessive reverberation (surely more than in volume 2?). On Chandos, Vernon Handley occasionally coaxes a little more expressivity out of the Ulster Orchestra, in more naturally glowing sound. But there’s very little in it, and at Naxos’s price this coupling makes an inviting introduction to Stanford the symphonist. Anthony Burton