Howard Shelley / Ulster Orchestra

Stanford: A Song of Agincourt; Overture in the Style of a Tragedy; Verdun; A Welcome March; Fairy Day

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Around the turn of the century, the music of Sir Charles Villiers Stanford was all but forgotten except for a few works. However, his reputation seems to be on the rise, which is all to the good for audiences: if you accept his music for what it is -- a pure representation of Victorian and Edwardian optimism -- it is stirring and often delightful. The present release, from the Ulster Orchestra under the indefatigable Howard Shelley, contains quite a miscellany of pieces, but its commercial success shows the new appetite for Stanford's music. These works aren't uniformly good; the opening Overture in the Style of a Tragedy, Op. 90, resembles Brahms' Tragic Overture but adds little to it. Persist and sample Verdun: Solemn March and Heroic Epilogue, Op. 151, Stanford's own orchestration of one of his organ works. You might find its uplifting tone a bit at odds with its grim subject, but it's likely that the tunes will stick in your head, and that has to count for something. The same is true of A Welcome March, Op. 87 (sample this), written for local bands to play during Edward VII's visit to Ireland in 1903. Fairy Day, with its female choruses, is something with which Arthur Sullivan would have had a field day, had he lived long enough. The quasi-medieval A Song of Agincourt, Op. 168, uses modal harmonies and is of a piece with Stanford's Irish Rhapsodies, recorded elsewhere in Hyperion's series. The Ulster Orchestra is not perfectly smooth, but they communicate the essence of this unexpectedly fresh music.

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