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Partsongs by Sir Charles Villiers Stanford

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Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choice/Paul Spicer

There has been renewed interest in the music of Sir Charles Villiers Stanford recently and with the kind support of the Stanford Society, SOMM now turns the spotlight on Stanford’s Partsongs in the second of a series of recordings with the Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir who have become one of Britain’s best choral groups in recent years, under the direction of Paul Spicer.

Stanford’s church music as well as the orchestral and chamber music are well represented on disc. Some of his secular songs have, in the past, been performed and recorded yet his 60-or-so partsongs are far less well known.

This is the first CD fully devoted to Stanford’s partsongs. In addition, the beautifully crafted eight Partsongs Op. 119 set to poems by Mary Coleridge (The Witch, Farewell My Joy, The Bluebird, The Train, The inkbottle, The Swallow, Chillingham, My heart in thine),  appear on CD as a complete set for the very first time. SOMM’s recording also contains 9 Songs, which are premiere recordings (Diaphenia,  Corydon Arise, A Dirge , Peace Come Away, To Chloris, On a hill, Like Desert Woods, To his flocks, A lover’s ditty, Praised be Diana).

It seems a paradox that we are far more familiar, both on disc and in the concert hall, with the music of Holst, Vaughan-Williams,  Ireland, Bridge, Bliss and Howells and yet we know far less of the music of Stanford, their composition teacher at the Royal College of Music. There is no doubt however, that his influence as a composer, conductor and teacher was far-reaching. He, together with Alexander Mackenzie and Hubert Parry, was said to be responsible for the flowering of British music in the late 19th and early 20th century — the so-called English Musical Renaissance —  with the Royal College of Music at its centre.

Born and raised in Dublin, Stanford came to live permanently in England, becoming professor of music at the University of Cambridge. His vast compositional output includes large structures such as seven symphonies, nine operas, ten concertos, six Irish Rhapsodies and four masses. He was equally at ease however, when writing musical miniatures and his songs, some of which are recorded on SOMM (SOMMCD 214 — A Century of English Song Vol. 2 — Sarah Leonard, Malcolm Martineau), have charm, lyricism and great sensitivity to the rhythm of words. Some have both beauty and magic (Peace, come Away, God and the Universe), others are melancholy and touching (Heraclitus, A Dirge, Farewell my joy) and some (The haven and On Time) are outstanding in their handling of choral harmonies and textures. All in all, a delightful disc.

Paul Spicer
Paul Spicer was a chorister at New College, Oxford. He studied with Herbert Howells and Richard Popplewell (organ) at the Royal College of Music. He is best known as a choral conductor, partly through the many CDs he made with the Finzi Singers for Chandos Records. He taught at the Royal College of Music in London between 1995 and 2008. He now teaches choral conducting at the Birmingham Conservatoire, where he also directs the chamber choir which has an increasing reputation through its regular recordings of British music, and at Oxford and Durham Universities.  Until 2001 Paul Spicer was Artistic Director of the Lichfield International Arts Festival and the Abbotsholme Arts Society, posts he relinquished in order to pursue a freelance musical career. He was Senior Producer for BBC Radio 3 in the Midlands until 1990 and today is in considerable demand as a composer. He has also been a much sought-after recording producer.

Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir
Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir is a group of twenty-four auditioned student singers who form an expert and flexible group. They perform with sensitivity, energy and panache and are gathering an enviable reputation for their musicianship partly through their increasing recording presence which reflects their conductor’s specialist interest in 20th and 21st century British music.

On This Recording

  1. On Time: On Time, Op. 142
  2. 4 Part-Songs: 4 Part-Songs, Op. 110: No. 4. Heraclitus
  3. To Chloris
  4. 6 Elizabethan Pastorales, Set 1: 6 Elizabethan Pastorales, Set 1, Op. 49: No. 2. Corydon, arise!
  5. 8 Partsongs: 8 Partsongs, Op. 119: No. 6. The Swallow
  6. 6 Elizabethan Pastorales, Set 2: No. 3. Praised be Diana
  7. 6 Elizabethan Pastorales, Set 2: No. 2. Like desert woods
  8. 4 Part Songs: 4 Part Songs, Op. 106: No. 3. To his flocks
  9. 6 Elizabethan Pastorales, Set 2: 6 Elizabethan Pastorales, Set 2, Op. 53: No. 1. On a hill there grows a flower
  10. 8 Partsongs: 8 Partsongs, Op. 119: No. 3. The blue bird
  11. 6 Elizabethan Pastorales, Set 3: 6 Elizabethan Pastorales, Set 3, Op. 67: No. 3. Shall we go dance?
  12. 8 Partsongs: 8 Partsongs, Op. 127: No. 3. When Mary thro’ the garden went
  13. 6 Elizabethan Pastorales, Set 1: 6 Elizabethan Pastorales, Set 1, Op. 49: No. 3. Diaphenia
  14. 8 Partsongs: 8 Partsongs, Op. 127: No. 4. The Haven
  15. 3 Part-Songs: 3 Part-Songs, Op. 111: No. 1. A Lover’s Ditty
  16. Songs of Faith: Songs of Faith, Op. 97: No. 2. God and the Universe
  17. Peace, come away
  18. 4 Part-Songs: 4 Part-Songs, Op. 110: No. 2. Dirge
  19. Out in the windy West
  20. 8 Partsongs: No. 1. The Witch
  21. 8 Partsongs: No. 2. Farewell, my Joy
  22. 8 Partsongs: No. 4. The Train
  23. 8 Partsongs: No. 5. The Inkbottle
  24. 8 Partsongs: No. 7. Chillingham
  25. 8 Partsongs: No. 8. My heart in Thine