Although he is remembered today mainly for his choral works, Anglo-Irish composer Charles Villiers Stanford produced a huge output of other music, including ten operas, seven symphonies, several concertos and a sizeable body of chamber pieces. These include eight string quartets, three of which are given their recording premieres on this attractive collection on the British Somm label, played with great elan and sensitivity by the excellent Dante Quartet.
The Third Quartet, which Stanford dedicated to his friend Joseph Joachim’s quartet, is the most substantial and was popular when it was first performed in 1898. Stanford composed it while he was on holiday in Milan, and it does have a passionate and Mediterranean feel. Although owing much to the influence of Brahms, not to mention Mendelssohn and Schubert, Stanford’s voice and personality come through. It was well received in Germany with one condescending reviewer saying that it could help dispel the contemporary view that good English music does not exist. The Fantasia third movement generates a deal of emotional tension while the last movement has Mendelssohnian ferocity.
The unpublished Fourth Quartet, dedicated to Joachim’s pupil, Melburnian Johann Kruse, is more inward-looking, less passionate and fiery, and with an Irish jig-like finale. Stanford often worked Irish folk music into his Victorian Romantic style and the Seventh Quartet, put together from manuscripts by Professor Jeremy Dibble, who wrote the informative liner notes, is no exception. After a sombre and well-argued contrapuntal opening, there’s a tuneful slow movement, a memorable scherzo and another hop jig for a lively ending.
These are attractive well-crafted works, all worth a listen. We have the Stanford Society to thank for helping restore much of the composer’s overlooked repertoire, in this case performed impeccably by Krysia Osostowicz and Oscar Perks, violins; Yuko Inoue, viola; and Richard Jenkinson, cello.
Composition: String Quartets Nos 3, 4 and 7
Performer: Dante Quartet
Catalogue Number: Somm SOMMCD0185