Hyperion Records

Violin Concerto in D major, Op 74
Stanford conceived his Violin Concerto on a grand scale. The first movement is a substantial musical structure full of striking ideas, written in a form he had already explored in his First Piano Concerto Op 59 of 1894. An opening statement by orchestra and soloist gives way to a full orchestral tutti that paves the way for modulation to the new key. In this sense Stanford greatly preferred the Mendelssohnian form of the ‘shared’ sonata scheme rather than the older classical fusion of ritornello and sonata practised by Brahms (especially evident from the large-scale orchestral expositions of Brahms’s concertos). From D major, and the impassioned, almost yearning modal shift to the tonic minor, Stanford modulates to the relative (B minor) and proceeds with two shorter ideas – an initial lyrical outpouring followed by a wonderful fragement (in 3/2) played solely on the G string, and a more extensive lyrical melody shared between the soloist and orchestra. The development, like its expositional counterpart, is impressive in gesture and design. A dramatic statement from the orchestra of sixty bars (a residue of the classical orchestral tutti) gradually subsides into a quieter, more meditative episode which organically evolves into a new, rhapsodic theme. Gaining momentum, the opening idea of the concerto re-emerges and runs seamlessly and with great deftness into a full recapitulation of the lengthy exposition. The first movement is a magnificent example of Stanford’s instinctive lyrical impulse, but it is also a striking example of his imaginative orchestral palette. This is perhaps most notable in the delicate tone colour of the woodwind figurations and pizzicato upper strings in the opening bars and the return of this delicate sound world in the coda, a feature noted by most critics of the time.

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

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