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The Nonet was played at a Broadwood Concert in The Aeolian Hall in London on 25 January, 1906, and was received with great favour. The critic of The Times was full of praise the following day in drawing attention to the work’s spontaneity, charm, and classical purity of structure. Parry, who was privately Stanford’s severest critic, also heard it and was similarly impressed. Later he heard it again in March 1913 played by a student ensemble at the Royal College of Music when he described it as ‘a nice specimen of his [Stanford’s] work’.
The light mood and texture of the Nonet (hence its title ‘Serenade‘) provides refreshing relief to the Brahmsian earnestness essayed in many of Stanford’s chamber works, notably the Cello Sonata in D minor (1893) and the Piano Trio No 2 in G minor (1899). Nevertheless, he symphonic nature of its composition clearly betrays Stanford’s Teutonic allegiance in the province of instrumental music – a feature especially apparent in the first movement. The Scherzo in A minor is perhaps the most original movement as the first part of the ternary structure is a set of highly inventive variations that vary in tempo, metre and phraseology. Stanford also derives the material of his trio from the Scherzo theme which, besides providing much needed tonal contrast, effectively serves as a further, more protracted variation. The slow movement has a vein of nostalgia evoked by the diatonic simplicity of the clarinet’s ‘vocal’ melody. Here we are reminded of similar gestures in Stanford’s Irish Rhapsodies, a connection reinforced by the more mystical and imaginatively orchestrated central idea. A humourous, lopsided, eleven-bar theme dominates the lighthearted finale which, in its coda, alludes wittily to material from previous movements.
from notes by Jeremy Dibble © 1989