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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
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