Stanford’s String Quartets Nos 5 & 8 performed by the Dante Quartet

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COMPOSERS: Stanford
LABELS: Somm
ALBUM TITLE: Stanford
WORKS: String Quartets Nos 5 & 8; Joachim: Romance, Op. 2 No. 1
PERFORMER: Dante Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: SOMMCD 0160

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Stanford aficionados apart, this composer’s vast output presents a question to anyone else; if you don’t know his music and are curious, where might you start looking? This release supplies the answer better than any I’ve yet come across: here is Stanford’s idiom at its most likeable, and least prolix. He was an excellent pianist; could it somehow be that the instrument’s absence paradoxically freed up his imagination in some way? Certainly there’s no trace here of his music’s somewhat too familiar turgid streak (relating perhaps to a deep Brahmsian influence coming out slightly wrong). Instead, there’s a vivid, fresh-air quality to the part-writing that appeals strongly.

The Fifth Quartet, written in 1907, was a memorial to Joseph Joachim, Stanford’s good friend and regular colleague on the concert platform, who had died a few weeks earlier. Each of its four movements quotes the theme from Joachim’s violin-and-piano Romance (itself included in this recording). The quartet’s Adagio third movement, in particular, has an elegiac manner that finely conveys emotional intensity without portentousness. Quartet No. 8 was composed after the First World War, by which time Stanford was widely regarded as a figure surviving from a vanished past. Far from feeling weighed down by any such associations, this is a work created by an undimmed creative spirit – as in the finale, alluding to the folk music of Stanford’s native Ireland. The Dante’s performances offer verve and precision, with immaculate recorded sound to match.

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Malcolm Hayes