String Quartets Nos 1, 2 & 6
SOMM Recordings SOMMCD 0607 79:17 mins
Stanford’s astonishing technical fluency – he wrote his First String Quartet within a week, while on holiday in Llandudno in 1891 – might suggest that the musical results here are correspondingly unremarkable. The good news is that this isn’t at all the case – with an occasional exception like the First Quartet’s opening movement, which trades a little too easily on its Mendelssohn-to-Dvořák inheritance. Immediately next comes something much more individual – an Intermezzo-like second movement, with a whimsically likeable main idea punctuated by two high-speed trio sections, the second deftly varying its predecessor. And the jig-like finale is a sophisticated take on Stanford’s Irish background.
The Second Quartet, composed straight after the First, features a punchily Beethovenian Scherzo, followed by an impressive and richly sustained slow movement. A fishing holiday, this time in Northumberland in 1910, saw Stanford producing his Sixth Quartet, again within just a few days. Highlights here include a finale of serious technical panache, at one point simultaneously combining its own material with themes from the first movement.
The Dante Quartet’s performances are superbly stylish and accurate; the First Quartet is led by second violinist Oscar Perks, who delivers every bit as impressively as leader Krysia Osostowicz in the other works.