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An Irish Idyll in Six Miniatures, Op 77

First line:
Loughareema! Lies so high among the heather
author of text

The Fairy Lough is the second of six settings of poems from Moira O’Neill’s Songs of the Glens of Antrim (1900) published by Stanford as An Irish Idyll in Six Miniatures in 1901. Though her poetry is little known today and generally criticized for its quaintness, O’Neill (the nom de plume of Agnes Nesta Skrine) was highly thought of in her day for her Hiberno-English verse by Irish critics such as Ernest Boyd and Stephen Gwynn. Plunket Greene, who sang The Fairy Lough at Bechstein Hall in March 1903 (with the composer accompanying), considered it one of Stanford’s most characteristic songs and gave it special attention in his book The Interpretation of Song (published in 1912). The orchestration of the song, which included a small revision of the ending, was made on 12 September 1909. Whether the orchestral version ever received a performance is unclear, and this recording may indeed be its first hearing.

One of the most distinctive elements of The Fairy Lough, a picture of a magical, yet elusive place high in the hills, is the initial progression from the tonic to a first inversion of the flat mediant (in lieu of the dominant). This harmonic shift establishes a precedent for further flat-wise movement which can be felt immediately in the first climactic flowering in bar 3 on the flattened seventh, but the trend continues in each verse (for example, ‘Float roun’ the one green island On the fairy lough asleep’) and even influences the dark hues of the enchanting plagal cadence at the end of each verse. Deftly scored for double woodwind (no oboes), horns, harp and muted strings, Stanford evidently wished to enhance the atmospheric character of the song, and its slightly lower tessitura in D flat (rather than the original D) gives the accompaniment a greater richness and sonority. Moreover, the single arpeggiated idea heard at the opening, motivically integral to the piece as a whole, is given increased focus by the recurrent timbre of the clarinet. Other features, notably the delightful woodwind filigree, harp harmonics, and the contrast of full strings with solo string quartet, all exhibit Stanford’s truly pointillistic skills in the art of instrumentation.

from notes by Jeremy Dibble © 1999


English Orchestral Songs
CDA67065Archive Service
Stanford: Songs, Vol. 2


No 2: The Fairy Lough  Loughareema! Lies so high among the heather
Track 18 on CDA67124 [4'23]
Track 3 on CDA67065 [3'45] Archive Service

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