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Stanford Chamber Works

Sonata for Clarinet and Piano Op 129, 2 Fantasies for Clarinet Quintet,

Intermezzi for Clarinet and Piano Op 13, Piano Trio Op 158


Robert Plane (clarinet), Gould Piano Trio

Mia Cooper (2 nd violin), David Adams (viola)


Naxos 8.570416


An absolutely excellent disc – if you want to listen to these pieces!


Aimez-vous Brahms? By the First World War, Edwardian contemporaries, let alone listeners today, thought Stanford was a bit of a stick in the mud and turned away from his music. So of the works on this disc, the Piano Trio is actually (for me deservedly) receiving a first recording.


Brahmsians can divert themselves picking up the innumerable references to the master's chamber works in the sonata and trio that frame this CD. It is almost as if Stanford cut up Brahms' scores into separate bars, put all the pieces in a big bag, picked them out at random and retranscribed them. At times the borrowings must be so conscious (such as the opening of the sonata's finale, which echoes the last variation of Brahms' Op 120/2) that the listener can only smile.


MP's editor handed me this disc with the words: ‘ This will interest you, because it is sub-Brahms, but it's too sub for me. ' Reluctantly, I agree. But not just sub-Brahms, sub-Mendelssohn too, not inappropriately for a composer who studied in Leipzig . The pieces in the middle of the CD in fact show Stanford's melodic talents in a more English (and better) light. There is a four-square anthem like tune, a gig and several expansive ‘allegro moderato' themes a la Elgar.


Wittgenstein (Ludwig, not Paul) memorably said of Brahms that he was ‘Mendelssohn without the mistakes.' Similarly, when Stanford abandons his Brahmsian academical textures, the music is a bit thin. This is not a stylistic evolution over time; the Intermezzi date from the 1870s and also gesture to the Schumann Fantasies, but the Clarinet Fantasies from 1921-22, and the finale of the trio (with its strong affinity to the Mendelssohn Op 66) are examples of Stanford's ‘late retro' writing.


The playing, from the Gould trio, and additions, is first-class; the production values are very good. Thoroughly recommended, to those who are already sure they will enjoy this style of music.


Ying Chang