Movement 1: Allegro
Movement 2: Canzona – Andante
Movement 3: Allegro moderato
The slow movement, titled ‘Canzona’, is one of Stanford’s finest creations. As its title suggests, it is a tripartite song form, full of long, elegiac lines for the solo violin (which, like the ‘Ballade’ of the Suite, grows out of the composer’s evident delight in the dark timbre of the open G string). In fact the attenuated melodic aspect of the movement hides an impressive organic cohesion in which much of the material is based on the descending four-note figure heard at the opening (on clarinets and bassoons). This also forms the basis of the more diatonic central section (made abundantly clear in the transition from G minor to E flat major) which is a lyrical effusion of great beauty and with the most ravishingly sumptuous writing for the soloist and (towards its close) for the horns. The return to G minor is marked by a spacious orchestral climax which prepares the way for a full cadenza for the violinist. This in turn forms a bridge to the restatement of the violin’s melancholic elegy, enveloped by hushed tremolandi for divided upper strings. It is a moment of spellbinding exquisiteness unique in the rich and varied catalogue of Stanford’s orchestral works.
A ‘Gaelic air’ (marked by Stanford in the score, though its origin is unclear), replete with distinctive flattened seventh, is used for the rondo theme in the high-spirited finale. Very much a foil to the earnest tone of the first two movements, this joyous dance revels in those pyrotechnic possibilities of violin technique (especially possible in that prince of keys for the violin, D major), though Stanford is equally slick in his manipulation of a tonal scheme that constantly gravitates between B minor and D.
from notes by Jeremy Dibble © 2000