Charles Villiers Stanford: Irish Song Cycles Return to Roots

I’ve often described Charles Villiers Stanford’s music as Brahms with an Irish lilt. Stanford’s Irish roots were never far from his musical inspiration. In this collection, those roots are front and center.

Stanford incorporates Irish melodic turns and harmonies into his songs. “Cushendall,” from 1910 sets the poems of Ulster poet John Stevenson.

“A Fire of Turf” comes from a collection by Winifred Letts. Letts was inspired by the Celtic Revival of the early 1900s. Stanford’s music reinforces their cultural identity.

“A Sheaf of Songs from Leinster” comes from that same collection. Rather than creating a song cycle, Stanford presents a series of stand-alone vignettes.

Stanford is often characterized as a stuffy Victorian, which is a little unfair. His “Blarney Ballads” of the 1890s are satirical songs. The broad humor shows another side of Stanford’s personality.

Also included are two songs from his opera “Shamus O’Brien.” Stanford wanted to be known as an opera composer but without success.

Sharon Carty and Benjamin Russell give some fine performances. The “Irishness” of these songs varies from work to work. Carty and Russell hit just the right tone time after time. Russell’s singing of the “Blarney Ballads,” for example, borders on caricature. But his delivery of “A Fire of Turf” is effective and sincere.

A fine addition to Somm’s survey of Stanford’s music.

Charles Villiers Stanford: Cushendall
Irish Song Cycles
Sharon Carty mezzo-soprano; Benjamin Russell, baritone; Finghin Collins, piano
Somm Recordings SOMMCD 0681

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