Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Sir Charles Stanford: Memorial Concert

This excellent article is written by the composer, performer and musicologist Marion M. Scott and is an excerpt from a book of her selected writings being edited by Pamela Blevins. It is posted here with grateful thanks.

LONDON, Dec 23 – The Bach Choir rarely gives a concert without impressing on it a certain dignity of matter or manner, an outcome of fine feeling and long years of intellectual culture. But seldom can it have done anything more impressive than the invitation concert which it gave under R. Vaughan Williams in memory of Sir Charles Stanford[1]. First there was the concert hall (that of the Royal College of Music) holding some thousand people, a place absolutely outside the mart of seats bought and sold for money, and associated wholly with the love and learning of music.
On Dec. 18 the audience that drew together within its walls came from the most intellectual and artistic circles in London, professional and amateur. The program to which they listened in quiet absorption had been framed with wide vision. It paid tribute to Sir Charles Stanford as an outstanding British composer, as conductor of the Bach Choir from 1885 to 1902, and as a pioneer in the restoration of Purcell’s works to their rightful place in music.
Beginning with the massive chorus “Soul of the World,” for chorus and orchestra (in which Purcell anticipated by many years Handel’s great choral effects) there followed Stanford’s symphonic cantata “Stabat Mater,”[2] for soli, chorus and orchestra.
This work has been criticized in the past as of uneven excellence. The orchestral prelude and intermezzo and the great pages in the finale still remain the things most impressive, but the fine thoughts in the second and fourth movements are undeniable, and the quartet of solo voices and the chorus are treated with the sense of beauty and fitness characteristic of Stanford’s best work.
Elsie Suddaby, Dilys Jones, [3] John Adams and George Parker acquitted themselves fairly well in the quartet – Elsie Suddaby happily overcoming the tendency to vibrato she showed at the start – but the ensemble would have gained by more cohesion and inspiration. The honors of the performance rested with the conductor and choir.
Six of Stanford’s songs, sung by H. Plunket Greene [4] as he alone can do them, and accompanied by D. Liddle[5] with perfect understanding and sympathy, gave glimpses of Stanford’s genius at its most tender and intuitive. Another aspect was presented by the unaccompanied part songs – an arrangement of “O’ Breathe Not His Name” and “The Blue Bird” – the latter undertaken at a pace and poise such as Stanford himself used, but blemished by the energetic sopranos and by a drop in pitch.

The Irish Rhapsody No. 4. by Stanford, and Bach’s cantata, “God’s Time Is Best,” completed the long program. In the first the London Symphony Orchestra played with the same beauty of tone and intelligence they had shown in the “Stabat Mater”. In Bach’s cantata they developed an inclination to drag the conductor’s beat. Yet neither this nor some unpleasant tone in the alto entries could shake the serene loveliness of the performance, and when the long concert ended it did so upon a deep impression of beautiful music.


Marion Scott, January 6, 1925, Christian Science Monitor


[1]Stanford died on March 29, 1924.

[2]The Stabat Mater was first performed at the Leeds Festival 1907.

[3]Elsie Suddaby (1893-1980), lyric soprano premiered Gerald Finzi’s Dies Natalis in 1940. Dilys Jones, soprano often performed Bach, Parry, Elgar.

[4]Harry Plunkett Greene (1865-1936) Irish baritone, writer, biographer of Stanford, son-in-law of Sir Hubert Parry.

[5]D.” Liddle is probably a typographical error. Samuel Liddle (1867-1951) was Greene’s accompanist.


Jamie Findlay said...

I loved reading this. Stanford gets greater and greater in my mind as the years go on, and I suspect that his row with Elgar is responsible for a lot of the venom thrown at him.

John France said...


Thanks for this. I guess the 'row' is a good story to investigate.
I love Stanford's music and would give up quite a bit of Elgar to have the Second Piano Concerto and the newly 'discovered; Piano Quartet in C minor!!!!