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Violin Sonata No 2 in A major, Op 70

probably 1898; unpublished; RCM MS 4080 folios 101-121

Stanford’s Violin Sonata No 2 in A major, Op 70, was never published and only survives (as far as is known) in a sole copyist’s score as part of a compilation of individual pieces in RCM MS 4080 (fols. 101–121). Its probable date of composition is 1898. Why it was written and for whom is not known, though it may have been composed for Enrique Fernández Arbós, Professor of Violin at the RCM who became the dedicatee of Stanford’s fine Violin Concerto, Op 74. In conceiving this second Violin Sonata, Stanford had the benefit of being acquainted with Brahms’s three Violin Sonatas written between 1879 and 1888 (which was not the case with his first essay in the idiom). The larger, four-movement plan of the sonata makes it comparable in scale with Brahms’s Sonata in D minor, Op 108, but the latter’s earnestness has little in common with the tender euphony of Stanford’s work. Instead it seems much more likely that Stanford was drawn to the rich, quasi-vocal lyricism of the G major Sonata, Op 78, and A major Sonata, Op 100, a characteristic that predominates in the tight organic invention of the first movement.

If lyricism is the controlling feature of the opening movement, then structural sophistication is the distinctive factor of the slow movement which builds a monothematic design from its opening three-note cell (A–B–C#), itself derived from the initial piano gesture of the first movement. Again one can feel the shadow of Schumann in the simple thematic strands of the melody, but this time what appears to be insignificant is in fact highly complex. Stanford’s seamless sonata construction gives the impression of a free form, and his manipulation of other features within the theme—the interrupted cadence on to VI (which quite magically gives rise to the development’s embarkation in D major) and the dark Neapolitan colouring—is masterly.

As light relief, the scherzo is a cheerful, spirited affair, full of contrapuntal dexterity, its main thematic material being a transformation of the slow-movement melody. To contrast with the energetic demeanour of the scherzo, the sonata-rondo finale is more earnest. The rather Brahmsian rondo idea, cast in A minor, projects a mood of disquiet, the portent of which is only lifted by the edifying second subject in C major, richly presented by the piano. A minor and the rondo theme return briefly but are soon dispelled by a passionate developmental paragraph in which the second subject reaches new heights of emotional fervour. As if spurred on by a new sense of optimism the recapitulation of the rondo passes quickly into A major, quitting for ever the pensive sobriety of the minor and lending a sense of invigorating well-being to the rest of the movement.

from notes by Jeremy Dibble © 1999


Stanford: Music for violin and piano


Movement 1: Allegro comodo
Movement 2: Adagio molto
Movement 3: Prestissimo
Movement 4: Allegretto – Animato

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