Stanford Songs of the Sea; The Revenge; Songs of the Fleet

An out-and-out winner, with Finley on top form – heartily recommended!

Record and Artist Details

Composer or Director: Charles Villiers Stanford

Label: Chandos

Media Format: Super Audio CD

Mastering:

Stereo
DDD

Catalogue Number: CHSA5043

Tracks:

Composition Artist Credit
Songs of the Fleet Charles Villiers Stanford Composer
Gerald Finley
BBC National Chorus of Wales
BBC National Orchestra of Wales
Richard Hickox
Songs of the Sea Richard Hickox
Charles Villiers Stanford Composer
BBC National Chorus of Wales
BBC National Orchestra of Wales
Gerald Finley
(The) Revenge: a Ballad of the Fleet BBC National Orchestra of Wales
Charles Villiers Stanford Composer
BBC National Chorus of Wales
Richard Hickox
Two of Stanford’s catchiest and most popular settings frame his 1904 Songs of the Sea for baritone, male chorus and orchestra: both ‘Drake’s Drum’ and ‘The Old Superb’ are instantly memorable and have alone justly secured the work’s survival. But there’s some terrific music tucked away in the three remaining numbers, not least the marvellously serene ‘Homeward Bound’ with its burnished orchestral palette (Stanford’s skilful scoring gives enormous pleasure throughout, in fact), rapt eloquence (nowhere more potent than at the line ‘Swiftly the great ship glides’) and adventurous harmonic scope (within the first couple of minutes the music travels from D flat to its furthest remove of G).

Six years later, Stanford returned to Henry Newbolt’s maritime verse to pen a more reflective sequel entitled Songs of the Fleet. Its spacious centrepiece, ‘The Middle Watch’, evokes a dusky mystery and sense of awe, while the opening ‘Sailing at Dawn’ is a gloriously assured and noble essay worthy of Elgar himself. In both sets, Gerald Finley’s firmly focused, ringing tone is a joy. He doens’t possess the salty tang of Benjamin Luxon (a true sea-dog if ever I heard one), but the voice is steadier and he sings with unfailing ardour, intelligence and sensitivity. Hickox and his BBC Welsh forces provide exemplary support.

I’m less smitten by the 1886 choral ballad The Revenge, one of the composer’s biggest early successes. Tennyson’s poem depicts how Sir Richard Grenville and his Devonian crew aboard Revenge (Drake’s favourite vessel) took on – and inflicted terrible damage upon – the Spanish fleet off the Azores in 1591 (one ship against 53 – I kid you not!). Stanford’s breezy setting proved a hit with Victorian choral societies up and down the land. Though no forgotten masterpiece, it’s most ably served by Hickox and company. Throw in an admirable booklet-essay by Jeremy Dibble and ripe, airy sound from Chandos, and it certainly adds up to a hearty recommendation.

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