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The Romantic Cello Concerto – 3
Stanford: The Complete Works for Cello & Orchestra

Stanford: Rondo in F major; Cello Concerto in D minor; Irish Rhapsody No. 3; Ballata and Ballabile
Gemma Rosefield, cello
Andrew Manze, conducting the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra

Review By Joe Milicia


  Sir Charles Villiers Stanford was an arch-Victorian composer — known today mostly for choral and symphonic music — who lived well into the 20th century but remained firmly rooted in the 19th. The Anglo-Irish, German-educated, Cambridge-based Stanford met and admired Brahms, but his music is considerably more conservative. Long neglected except by British choral societies, Stanford has received considerable attention in recent years from recording companies, with his seven symphonies, six Irish Rhapsodies for orchestra, and concertos for piano, violin and clarinet having been released. Now comes a set of his works for cello and orchestra — in his lifetime none of them published and few even performed, if I read Jeremy Dibble's booklet essay correctly.

Unjustly neglected? Yes, if you enjoy comfortable high-Victorian music in a now-vigorous, now-songful vein, steeped in the German tradition, with attractive writing for winds and the opportunity for a fine cellist to display her considerable skills, as Gemma Rosefield does on Hyperion's new CD.

The works on the disc cover a considerable span of time, from an 1869 Rondo to the oddly named Ballata and Ballabile of 1918 — though it would take a very trained ear indeed to guess they were written nearly 50 years apart. The Rondo, as Dibble points out, is strikingly accomplished for a composer not yet 17. Though it has some rhetorical outbursts, it is mostly a relaxed work, moderate in tempo, with deft woodwind writing. More substantial is the three-movement Concerto in D minor of 1880, dedicated to Robert Hausmann, who had performed Stanford's Cello Sonata in 1877. (Hausmann would later play in the premieres of Brahms' Second Cello Sonata, Double Concerto and Clarinet Trio.) The opening movement, as long as the other two combined, is highly dramatic, as one would expect of a Romantic concerto, though any tendency toward real storminess drifts back into lyricism. The Molto adagio is suitably soulful, with interesting passages in which the soloist plays against strummed pizzicato strings (cellos and basses, it seems) and sustained high flute chords, joined by other winds in a reprise. The finale opens with the gentle sound of paired clarinets, leading us into the energetic conclusion (with the now expected fallbacks into lyricism). Gemma Rosefield displays the tonal beauty and athleticism that the music calls for, and Andrew Madze and the BBC Scottish are her more than alert accompanists.

My favorite work on this CD is the Ballata half of the Ballata and Ballabile. It's a tuneful evocation of an old ballad, with lovely dialogues between the cello and woodwinds over the course of its 11 minutes. (Dibble compares it to Schumann, but I hear much more the mood of Dvorak's Silent Woods.) The Ballabile that follows (the name means "danceable") is in a graceful waltz tempo, with much opportunity for the soloist to display charm, warmth and virtuosity at the same time. Rosefield's rhythmic verve, ably supported by Madze, is especially evident here, and very pleasing.

Stanford wrote six Irish Rhapsodies for orchestra between 1902 and 1923 (not to mention the Irish Symphony of 1877), of which the Third and Sixth feature solo instruments: cello and violin respectively. The Third, which keeps the cello pretty much at the fore, is in two sections, both based on Irish tunes: the first moderate in tempo and indeed "rhapsodic," the second a hearty jig.

Hyperion's engineers provide an excellent balance between soloist and orchestra, capturing the warmth of Rosefield's tone while keeping the all-important woodwinds rather prominent as well.





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