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Suite for violin and orchestra, Op 32
Stanford’s Suite Op 32 is one of numerous Romantic works in which the ‘old’ and ‘new’ are brought together. Indeed, one of the most fascinating aspects of this ‘interaction’ is how far the composer permits one to influence the other, yet, at the same time retaining the dominance of the ‘new’. Stanford had experience of this approach as a student in Leipzig with his Suite for Piano Op 2 (one of his earliest published works, published by Chappell in 1875) which consisted of four dances, a courante, a sarabande and gigue (grouped together) and a final gavotte. But by the time he came to the composition of his violin suite in 1888 there were important orchestral precedents in the form of Grieg’s Aus Holbergs Zeit and Tchaikovsky’s orchestral suites, two composers for whom Stanford had profound admiration. Yet, much as both Grieg and Tchaikovsky may have been influential, Stanford’s real motivation lay in his desire to create a work of homage to Joachim which would stand both as a tribute to his friend’s brilliance as a great virtuoso and musician and as a portrait of Joachim’s musical enthusiams for Bach, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Spohr and Brahms, seen musically through the eyes of his younger Irish admirer.

The first movement is a particularly remarkable example of this musical fusion of ‘old’ and ‘new’ styles. It is apparent in the conflation of ritornello and sonata principles, but perhaps more strikingly in the differentiation of first- and second-group material, the former very much using the Baroque mannerisms of French double-dotted rhythms (the solo opening is surely a depiction of Joachim and his beloved Bach unaccompanied violin sonatas) and the latter an overtly Romantic style, no doubt reminding the listener that Joachim was the dedicatee of Brahms’s Violin Concerto. The ‘Ouverture’ is linked by a modulatory passage of quasi-recitative (in which the dotted rhythms are expunged) to the ‘Allemande’ (in G) which is perhaps reminiscent of Mendelssohn (not least his Violin Concerto which Joachim had played at a precociously young age). Felicitously scored, this delightful miniature more closely follows the traditional binary scheme of its Baroque model, though the full thematic recapitulation and excursion to F major betray its more contemporary roots. The Ballade (in G minor), recalling the rich sonorities of Brahms’s Balladen Op 10, is a poetic, melancholy essay whose extended theme exploits the dark hues of the violin’s G string. This plaintive material flanks a central section of a more euphonious, lyrical character and one which, in the coda, is transformed into Mendelssohnian quicksilver.

The ‘Tambourin’, like its counterpart the ‘Allemande’, is a short interlude of delicate proportions and nimble orchestration. In keeping with the character of the old Provençal dance, Stanford maintains the monotonous rhythm (heard mainly on the timpani) throughout the movement. The unchanging pedal point on D also gives rise to an interesting tonal syntax where the subdominant and submediant play a central role (as opposed to the dominant, which is largely absent) and where Stanford’s chromatic resourcefulness is conspicuous at the climax. The gigue finale, cast in sonata-rondo form, is the most symphonic movement of the suite and the most technically demanding for both soloist and orchestra. Here Stanford’s instrumental technique is shown at its most fluent and imaginative, particularly in the exhilarating central episode (where the solo violin’s legato line is supported by the extraordinarily vigorous texture of the lower strings) and the sparkling coda where the ritornello of the first movement is recalled as a concluding gesture.

from notes by Jeremy Dibble © 2000

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Details for CDA67208 track 2
Recording date
27 June 2000
Recording venue
Greyfriars Church, Edinburgh, Scotland
Recording producer
Andrew Keener
Recording engineer
Tony Faulkner
Hyperion usage
  1. Stanford: Violin Concertos (CDA67208)
    Disc 1 Track 2
    Release date: November 2000
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