Stanford retained an enthusiasm for the music of Bach throughout his life, and the two sets of ‘Twenty-four Preludes in all the keys for pianoforte’ are a clear homage to JSB’s own ‘48’. Sam Haywood, making his second recording for Hyperion, performs his own selection.
Towards the end of his life Stanford wrote two sets of 24 Preludes for piano boasting impeccable craft and characteristic resourcefulness as well as a most satisfying diversity of mood and genre. The key-scheme matches that of Bach’s ‘48’, and the present Hyperion survey contains all but 10 pieces from both books. From the First Set of 1918 I’d single out the charmingly capricious Humoresque (No 9), powerfully elegiac No 16, marked Adagio (con Fantasia) and an Irish lament or ‘Caoine’ in all but name, and deeply felt March (No 22) which—like the composer’s enviably taut Third Piano Trio from the same year—bears a dedication to the memory of Maurice Gray (son of Alan Gray, Stanford’s organist colleague at Trinity College, Cambridge). Finished some time around 1921, the Second Set likewise contains its fair share of treasures, not least the sanguine swagger of the E major Alla marcia (No 33), moody, barcarolle-like No 36 in F minor (echoes here of both Chopin and Fauré), noble Chaconne in F sharp minor (No 38), winsome Musette (No 42) and lofty A major Alla sarabanda (No 43). The valedictory final piece (appropriately entitled ‘Addio’) proves enormously touching.
Sam Haywood (a pupil of Paul Badura-Skoda and Maria Curcio, and regular chamber partner to—among others—Joshua Bell and Steven Isserlis) does this repertoire absolutely proud; possessing a pleasingly rounded tone, sensitivity to dynamic nuance and flawless technical address, his is a decidedly superior brand of pianism. Exemplary sound (Ben Connellan) and scholarly annotation (Jeremy Dibble) offer additional incentive to check out this most rewarding issue. (Gramophone)