Stanford String Quartets Nos 3, 4 & 7
SOMM Recordings SOMMCD 0185 76:09 mins
Stanford wrote eight string quartets in 28 years from 1891 onward, although only four were published in his lifetime. There has never been a complete recording of the cycle, and this is volume two of a series which will rectify that omission.
Quartet No. 3 dates from Stanford’s forties, and its burnished late-Romantic palette undoubtedly owes a debt to Brahms. But the Dante Quartet’s elegantly inflected performance of the opening movement suggests a less intense musical personality, an impression confirmed by the courtly Allegretto which follows.
Quartet No. 4’s Allegretto is positively jaunty, with more than a hint of Stanford’s Irish background in it. That’s true also of the fiery finale, where the raw material is a recurring jig-rhythm which lends the music a dervish-like propulsion, dispatched with rare panache and nuance by the Dante players.
For Quartet No. 7 the outstanding Krysia Osostowicz swaps her leader’s chair with the Dante’s second violin, Oscar Perks. This is a terser, more mercurial work, and its sweetly poignant Andante is the most touching of the disc’s three slow movements. The jittery Scherzo is vividly articulated by the players, and its nerviness extends into the finale, where the Dante catch a telling restlessness beneath the movement’s superficially high spirits.
These quartets are exceptionally well-crafted pieces, although Stanford’s melodies are seldom strongly memorable, and his seriousness of purpose rarely stretches to profundity. But these highly sympathetic interpretations are well worth hearing.