Stanford: 25 Partsongs

Reviewed on Mon 14 Oct, 2013

Here’s an enterprising release that offers a different, pleasingly revealing perspective on Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924). Familiar as one of the powerhouse generation who shaped the sound of British church music at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries, Stanford’s woefully neglected Partsongs provide a fresh and varied insight into a considerably wider musical palette than is employed in the sacred music. Boasting 25 songs – 10 of them first recordings – there is also the first complete account on disc of the eight Op 119 settings of Mary Coleridge (including the sublime 'The blue bird'). Among rediscovered jewels – the yearning 'A dirge', Dowland-like 'To his flocks' and infectiously cheerful 'On a hill there grows a flower' – are curios such as 'Corydon, arise!' (decidedly contrived) and the madrigal-infused 'Out in the windy west' (a singular oddity). But richly musical, subtly characterised performances by the impressive Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir make this an essential port of call for anyone interested in British music of the period.
–Michael Quinn