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Hyperion Records

CDH55361 - Stanley: Six Concertos in seven parts
Windsor Castle: The North Terrace, looking West by Paul Sandby (1730-1809)
Victoria & Albert Museum, London
(Originally issued on CDA66338)

Recording details: November 1988
All Hallows, Gospel Oak, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Martin Compton
Engineered by Tony Faulkner
Release date: September 2010
Total duration: 58 minutes 3 seconds

'The players are technically superb, but also play with a grace and lightness which are wholly uplifting' (BBC Music Magazine Top 1000 CDs Guide)

'An attractive record' (Gramophone)

'Great sound and warmly recommended' (Fanfare, USA)

The English Orpheus
Six Concertos in seven parts
Largo  [1'08]
Allegro  [3'03]
Adagio  [1'37]
Allegro  [2'00]
Largo – Adagio  [2'14]
Allegro  [3'42]
Allegro  [2'13]
Allegro  [1'53]
Adagio  [1'46]
Allegro  [2'12]
Andante  [1'36]
Allegro  [3'32]
Adagio  [1'53]
Allegro  [3'13]
Andante  [1'12]
Allegro  [2'18]
Largo  [1'21]
Allegro  [1'55]
Adagio  [1'16]
Allegro  [1'45]
Allegro moderato  [2'10]
Adagio  [1'37]
Allegro  [3'32]
Largo  [2'08]
Allegro  [2'35]
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Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
John Stanley was born on 17 January 1712, the eldest surviving child of John and Elizabeth Stanley of the London parish of St Swithin, London Stone. At the age of two he was supposedly blinded by a domestic accident involving a broken china basin; an engraving of a lost portrait of him in middle age by Thomas Gainsborough shows him with shrivelled eye-sockets, but it is possible that he retained some residual sight since he became a prolific composer and was evidently able to pursue an active concert career, often directing extended works by his contemporaries such as Handel’s Messiah.

Stanley came early to public attention as an organist. After studies with John Reading and Maurice Greene he obtained posts successively at All Hallows, Bread Street (1723), St Andrew, Holborn (1726) and the Temple Church (1734). In 1738 he achieved a measure of financial security by marrying the daughter of a member of the East India Company who brought him a dowry of seven thousand pounds. Soon after, he began to establish himself as a composer with a series of publications spread across most of the fashionable genres of the day. His Op 1, a set of solos for flute or violin and continuo, appeared in 1740; it was followed two years later by the present set of concertos and by a set of English cantatas (Op 3), the words mostly by the future music historian John Hawkins. In later life Stanley became Handel’s successor as the director of the Lenten oratorio seasons at Covent Garden (later Drury Lane) and as the leading musician at the Foundling Hospital. In 1779 he also succeeded William Boyce as Master of the King’s Musick, and was responsible for composing court New Year and Birthday odes (all of which, unfortunately, are lost) until his death in May 1786.

Stanley’s Six Concertos in seven parts first appeared in an edition prepared for the composer in the spring of 1742; it was advertised in the issue of the London Evening Post for 30 March–1 April of that year. The publication was evidently a success, for it was taken over and reissued several times by the publisher John Walsh, and many copies survive today in public and private libraries. The collection was also issued in the late 1740s in an arrangement for flute and continuo made, it seems, by an inept hack, and in a version with the concertino string parts set out for solo harpsichord or organ and strings. It has generally been thought that this too is a later arrangement, made to cash in on the fashion for organ concertos created by Handel’s Op 4 of 1738, but two of the set, Nos 3 and 6, have solo passages with figuration that fits more easily on the keyboard than on the violin; they are played as organ concertos on this disc. There is an additional reason to think that Stanley originally conceived No 6 for keyboard: he published a version of it as No 3 of his Op 10 organ concertos in 1775 with more extended solo passages and a three-part accompaniment (without viola); it also omits the Largo. On this recording we have combined the two versions in the belief that the one in Op 10 is not a revision but a record of how Stanley and other English organists of the time would have elaborated and developed the written solo passages of their concertos in performance. The extra material is inserted by a simple ‘scissors and paste’ method in two places in the fugal first Allegro and one in the final Allegro. In the recording sessions the orchestral players were able to accommodate them merely by writing extra rests into the 1742 parts.

Stanley stands out among his contemporaries as a composer of ‘grand concertos’ in that he used Handel’s Op 6 concertos of 1739 as a model. Most concerto composers in London at the time looked either directly to Corelli or to Geminiani, Corelli’s chief disciple in London, whose influential Opp 2 and 3 sets of 1732 use an updated Corelli style, with more brilliant solo parts and with a viola in the concertino as well as the ripieno. Stanley can be Corellian at times, as in the fine opening sequence of Op 2 No 1, but in general he follows Handel in using a more varied style; Op 2 No 5, for instance, opens with a French Overture and includes a delightful Allegro movement for solo violin in a modern Vivaldi-like idiom. The influence of Handel on Stanley, however, can be seen at its clearest not in general matters of style but in a number of specific cases of movements in Op 2 that take their point of departure from material in Op 6. No 4 in D minor, for instance, opens with a suave allemande-like Adagio that recalls the opening of Op 6 No 2 in the relative F major; the succeeding Allegro also has occasional echoes of the jig-like fugue in Op 6 No 12. Similarly, the Allegro movement already mentioned in Op 2 No 5 borrows its repeated semiquaver figuration set in rising sequential harmony from the equivalent movement in Op 6 No 5; both concertos end with minuets that have variations with running quavers in the bass. Yet Stanley’s concertos are far from being slavish imitations, as the unusual and striking cello solo movement in Op 2 No 2 shows, and at their best they have a concise elegance that Handel himself did not always command.

Peter Holman © 1989

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