On Record – David Quigley – The Fair Hills of Éire: Irish Airs and Dances (Heritage Records)

david-quigley

David Quigley (piano)

Beach The Fair Hills of Éire Op.91 (1922)
Esposito Two Irish Melodies Op.39 (1883)
Field Go to the Devil and Shake Yourself (1798)
Hammond Miniatures and Modulations (2011) – No. 5, Old Truagh; No. 21, The Beardless Boy
Hennessy Variations sur un air Irlandais ancien Op.28 (1908)
Hough Londonderry Air (2014)
Martin Sionna – Spirit of the Shannon (2018)
Moeran Irish Love Song (1926); The White Mountain (1929)
Smith Paraphrase on ‘The Last Rose of Summer’ Op.173 (1883)
Stanford arr. Grainger Four Irish Dances Op.89 (1916) – no.1: Maguire’s Kick; no.4: A Reel

Heritage Records HTGCD152 [62’39”]
Producer / Engineer David Marshalsea

Recorded 9 & 11 April 2022 at Elgar Concert Hall, The Bramall, University of Birmingham

Reviewed by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

The enterprising Heritage label continues its association with David Quigley in this recital   of Irish piano works as cover over two centuries, reminding listeners of the wealth of folk or traditional music from that island and its influence on successive generations of composers.

What’s the music like?

Published as Favorite (sic) Irish Dance Arranged as a Rondo for the Piano Forte, the first item is not unreasonably attributed to the teenage John Field and make for a breezy recital-opener – following which, pianist Stephen Hough demonstrated his prowess as an arranger with what is surely the most famous of all Irish melodies. Two pieces by the Italian émigré Michele Esposito – the trenchant Avenging and Bright, followed by the pensive Though the Last Glimpse of Erin – complement each other ideally, whereas the first from a set of dances by Charles Villers Stanford exudes bracing humour most likely accentuated in this idiomatic arrangement by no less than Percy Grainger. By some distance the longest piece here is from Swan Hennessy, an Irish/American later resident in France – his 12 variations on an (unidentified) theme in the lineage of various such works from the 19th century but diverting in its ingenuity. Best known as an inquiring pianist, Philip Martin the composer is represented by this evocative set of ‘rhapsodic variations’ written for the present artist.

Sidney Smith’s Paraphrase de concert on another Irish staple is the most virtuosic music and would make a dashing encore even today. Philip Hammond is the other contemporary composer featured – the present brace, part of a sequence of 21 drawn from the Edward Bunting collection and likewise written for Quigley, respectively searching and animated     in their emotional profile. From among her many mood-pieces, that by Amy Beach yields       a limpid poetry that more than deserves to provide the title for this collection overall. An English composer with direct Irish ancestry, Ernest Moeran’s predilection for all-things Celtic is made plain by the two pieces heard here, their recourse to traditional melodies enhanced by an idiomatic pianism which adds greatly to the winsomeness of their appeal. Back, finally, to those Stanford/Grainger dances with the fourth from this set a reminder that the former, whatever his formidable reputation as a pedagogue, was never averse to indulging his Irish roots in the writing of music as scintillating as it remains appealing.

Does it all work?

Admirably. Quigley is as committed to the music of his homeland as have been numerous of his predecessors, not only with performing these pieces in recital but also by finding ways of integrating them into a cohesive overall programme. Only one achieves (just) the 10-minute mark and another is almost eight minutes, making them ideal for combining into a judicious sequence – one which, at little more than an hour’s length, can be enjoyed at a single hearing. Quigley will hopefully have the chance to mine the ‘Irish piano-book’ further in due course.

Is it recommended?

Indeed. Quigley is a perceptive exponent of this repertoire, his Kawai Shigeru SK-EX heard to advantage in the spacious yet detailed acoustic of the Elgar Concert Hall. With succinctly informative notes from Andrew H. King, this recital warrants the warmest recommendation.

For further information on this release, and to purchase, visit the Heritage Records website, and for more on David Quigley click here

In concert – Soloists, University of Birmingham Voices & CBSO / Martyn Brabbins: Stanford: Requiem

stanford-requiem

Stanford Requiem Op.63 (1896)

Carolyn Sampson (soprano), Marta Fontanals-Simmons (mezzo-soprano), James Way (tenor), Ross Ramgobin (baritone), University of Birmingham Voices, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra / Martyn Brabbins

Symphony Hall, Birmingham
Saturday 25 July 2022

Written by Richard Whitehouse

Its official season may have ended over a week before, but the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra was heard this evening in a rare revival of a work whose premiere it gave 125 years ago at the Birmingham Triennial Festival – that of the Requiem by Charles Villiers Stanford.

As historian Paul Rodmell recounted in his programme note, this Festival saw the launching of a host of major choral works during its 128 years of existence – notably Mendelssohn’s Elijah in 1846 and Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius in 1900. That the latter piece was soon regarded as trailblazing despite a largely unsuccessful premiere might be thought ironic given that, just three years earlier, Stanford’s Requiem had been received with some acclaim only to fall into obscurity along with the greater part of his sizable output in the wake of the First World War.

Not unexpectedly, Brahms instead of Berlioz or Verdi is the main presence – thus the Introit with its understated opening theme that recurs often in the work, while its distinction between sombre choral and aspiring vocal music is further emphasized by those expressive contrasts in the Kyrie. The vocalists come into their own in a Gradual whose orchestral textures find this composer at his most felicitous. A telling foil, moreover, to the Sequence with its menacing Dies irae or proclamatory Tuba mirum, then what follows bringing the soloists into individual focus: hence the heightened fervour of Carolyn Sampson, the more circumspect eloquence of Marta Fontanals-Simmons, slightly hectoring impulsiveness of James Way, and the brooding power of Ross Ramgobin; though the sequence overall exudes an almost symphonic cohesion.

Arguably the finest portion, however, comprises the final three movements. The Offertorium makes much of the contrast between warmly martial and intensively fugal sections, while the Sanctus has an ethereal radiance which carries through the ruminative Benedictus and into deftly resounding Hosannas. The funereal orchestral music preceding the Agnus Dei affords the darkest emotion of the whole work, but this only enhances the ensuing Lux aeterna with its serene fatalism that Frederic Leighton – artist and friend of Stanford, whose death early in 1896 was the catalyst – would doubtless have appreciated. Throughout this performance, the University of Birmingham Voices responded with alacrity to choral writing whose poise and translucency were always in evidence – not least in the most earnestly contrapuntal passages.

Special praise for Martyn Brabbins who, whether or not he considers it a masterpiece, directed this work with unwavering conviction. The balance between soloists or chorus and orchestra might largely take care of itself, but orchestral textures need astute handling if these are not to risk uniformity or even monotony and Brabbins drew a committed response from the CBSO such that the autumnal hues of Stanford’s writing came through unimpeded. Good to hear this performance is being released commercially, as it did full justice to a largely neglected work.

A last thought. One of Stanford’s earlier choral pieces is The Resurrection, a setting of the ode by Friedrich Klopstock. Maybe when the CBSO performs Mahler’s Second Symphony in a future season, it would be worth programming these assuredly very different works together?

For more information on the CBSO visit their website. For more information on Charles Stanford, meanwhile, visit the website of The Stanford Society

In Appreciation – David Lloyd-Jones

by Ben Hogwood

This week we have learned the sad news of the death of conductor David Lloyd-Jones, at the age of 87. David was instrumental in founding Opera North in 1978, and there is a heartfelt tribute on their website in his honour.

While Lloyd-Jones was a highly respected opera conductor, I have chosen to focus on his many and pioneering recordings of English music by way of a tribute. These include extensive surveys of the orchestral music of Stanford (including a symphony cycle), Alwyn, Bliss, Rawsthorne and Arnold Bax, including another survey of his symphonies, and Holst – with an important disc of his orchestral music released in 1998. Here is just a hint of his discography for Naxos, with highlights from some very impressive recordings:

Live review – Ealing Symphony Orchestra / John Gibbons: Stanford: Symphony no.6

ealing-symphony-orchestra

Ealing Symphony Orchestra / John Gibbons

St Barnabas Church, Pitshanger Lane, London

Broadcast Thursday 10 June 2021, available online

Stanford Symphony no.6 in E flat major Op.94 ‘In honour of the life-work of a great artist: George Frederick Watts (1905)

Written by Ben Hogwood

Next year will be the centenary of the independent Ealing Symphony Orchestra, one of the leading voluntary ensembles in London. In more recent years the group have built a reputation for deviating from ‘normal’ repertoire, and their return from a tortuous year-and-a-half of lockdown saw an immediate return to that approach.

It came in the form of a welcome reappraisal of the Sixth symphony of Charles Villiers Stanford. Stanford occupies a godfather-like position in British music, credited with the instruction of many leading composers (Vaughan Williams, Holst, Coleridge Taylor and Ireland to name but a few), but his music tends to be admired rather than deeply loved. Stanford acknowledges the influence of continental Romantic composers in his music, with hints of Mendelssohn, Brahms and Wagner to be found, but in the course of this symphony closer parallels emerge to the music of Elgar, whose own first symphony was still three years away.

Conductor John Gibbons gave a heartfelt introduction from the podium at St Barnabas Church, where the orchestra are based, and the online pictures illustrated a wide spacing between the instruments, with many players wearing masks. Through necessity the strings were further apart, the cellos particularly far back, with the brass on the conductor’s far left. None of these unconventional placings harmed the performance, however, and there was a very strong sense of joyful homecoming, the opening of a new chapter.

physical energy

A good deal of this was due to Stanford’s music. The sixth symphony celebrates sculptor and artist George Frederic Watts, and in the first movement takes inspiration by Watts’ Physical Energy sculpture, now in Hyde Park (above, picture by David Hawgood). Stanford begins with the most positive and exultant music, played with appropriate gusto here. There were occasional lapses in the strings’ turning early on, but it bears remembering that amateur players in particular have been devoid of ensemble practice for so long, and such moments are inevitable as part of the ‘reawakening’ process. In any case the music powered forward with increasing conviction, its prevailing mood of strength and resolve in keeping with the players’ emergence from lockdown. A particularly fulsome solo from the orchestra’s leader (uncredited) was in keeping with the sunny disposition all around.

Love and Life c.1884-5 by George Frederic Watts 1817-1904

The heart of Stanford’s Sixth lies in the slow movement, where a soulful cor anglais solo sets the tone but long phrases were expertly paced towards the big climax. Based on Watts’ paintings Love and Life and Love and Death (both above), there was an appropriate romanticism near the surface throughout. The scherzo of light and shade was elusive, portraying the movement of water as depicted by Watts in Good Luck to your Fishing (below).

Good_Luck_to_your_Fishing_by_George_Frederick_Watts
This third movement would have benefited from a bit more rhythmic definition, but was still a n engaging account, especially as Gibbons plotted a smooth transition to the finale, where the drama heightened further. The venue proved its worth here, with just the right amount of reverb – and as all passion was spent towards the end the music slowed slightly, giving plenty of room for some excellent woodwind playing.

This was a fine and extremely enjoyable performance, passionate and concentrated – a persuasive advocate for Stanford’s music. His voice is all too seldom heard in this country, but performances like this ought to ensure greater coverage. It was the ideal choice for the Ealing Symphony Orchestra to reassert their identity after lockdown, and the enthusiasm and optimism throughout were uplifting. Watch it if you can.

For more information on the Ealing Symphony Orchestra’s return from lockdown on Saturday 10 July, and further events, visit the orchestra website

Live review – English Music Festival opening night: BBC Concert Orchestra & Martin Yates play Robin Milford, Stanford, Vaughan Williams & Arnold

Sergey Livitin (violin), BBC Concert Orchestra / Martin Yates

Dorchester Abbey, Dorchester-on-Thames
Friday 24 May 2019

Berners Portsmouth Point (1918) [World premiere]
Arnold Serenade Op.26 (1950)
Stanford Violin Concerto in D major (1875) [First public performance]
Vaughan Williams orch. Yates The Blue Bird (1913) [First public performance]
Delius A Song before Sunrise (1918)
Milford Symphony no.2 Op.34 (1933) [World premiere]

Written by Richard Whitehouse
Picture of BBC Concert Orchestra (c) Sim Canetty-Clarke

The 13th English Music Festival got off to an impressive start this evening, with Martin Yates presiding over the BBC Concert Orchestra for a substantial and wide-ranging programme that brought together the hitherto unknown and the relatively familiar in appropriate EMF fashion.

Who else would provide a platform for a first public performance of the Violin Concerto in D major that Stanford wrote at Leipzig in his mid-20s but which, despite the seeming approval of Joachim, remained unheard before being recorded two years ago. Admittedly the first movement rather outstays its welcome, the themes lacking memorability and a solo part not ideally contrasted with the orchestra, but the slow Intermezzo has an appealing poise; its cadenza artfully made an extended transition into the final Rondo (a procedure likely taken over from Wieniawski’s Second Concerto – the model in several respects), its winsome second theme brought back as a lingering coda prior to the closing flourish. Sergey Levitin proved an able and sympathetic soloist in a piece which, whatever its stylistic limitations, was certainly worth rehabilitating.

As too was the incidental music Vaughan Williams devised for Maurice Maeterlinck’s play The Blue Bird, idiomatically orchestrated from the piano score by Yates. This is essentially a ballet (or rather mime) sequence for the end of the first act, its series of thematically related dances striking a fantastical note such as the composer tellingly (if unexpectedly?) conveys. It may well have proved too ambitious in its original context though makes for a lively and imaginative suite, into whose whimsical spirit the BBCCO entered with evident enjoyment.

Malcolm Arnold’s Serenade exemplifies this composer’s early maturity with its pert melodic writing, harmonic ambiguity and rhythmic impetus. A Song before Sunrise is less often heard than other Delius miniatures, but its ruminative mood – barely ruffled by passing shadows, is no less characteristic. It could not have been more different from Lord Berners’s Portsmouth Point, redolent of early Prokofiev in its mechanistic aggression that, if it lacks the ebullience of Walton’s later overture, still packs an uninhibited punch when presented as a curtain-raiser.

The concert ended with its most intriguing item. Long considered a miniaturist (at least in his expressive scope), Robin Milford was not lacking in ambition – as reinforced by his Second Symphony (so designated following the rediscovery of its predecessor from six years earlier), admired by Vaughan Williams but only now receiving its first complete performance. Its four movements ostensibly reflect classical archetypes, but the first of these modulates ever more stealthily as it unfolds, while the scherzo’s latter trio unexpectedly opens-out the expressive range. The highlight is undoubtedly a slow movement of sustained and cumulative emotional depth, closer to Nielsen than Sibelius in tonal follow-through; after which, the (intentionally?) concise finale barely manages to provide a decisive resolution without seeming perfunctory.

Not in doubt was the commitment of the BBCCO and Yates in realizing this dark horse among British inter-war symphonies. A fitting end to an absorbing event: good to hear that orchestra and conductor will be returning for the 14th EMF – scheduled for May 20th–22nd next year.

Further listening

This concert will be broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on a date as yet unknown. Much of the music is not currently available in recorded versions on Spotify. However EM Records, the label who run the festival, made this enterprising release of Stanford‘s Violin Concerto no.2, coupled with Robin Milford‘s Violin Concerto no.2, both with soloist Rupert Marshall-Luck:

For more Robin Milford this album on Toccata Classics provides great insight into his writing for chamber music forces:

Meanwhile the following playlist includes the Malcolm Arnold and Delius works, the more familiar version of Portsmouth Point by Sir William Walton, and Arnold’s Symphony no.1: