Stanford String Quartets – music with an Irish accent

This new release by the Dante Quartet features two of the eight string quartets composed by Charles Villiers Stanford.

String Quartet No. 5  (1907) was written in memory of violinist and composer Joseph Joachim. As a violinist, Joachim was a major force in classical music (Brahms’ Violin Concerto and Double Concerto were written for him). And he was the founder of the Joachim String Quartet, which set the standard for quartet playing in the last part of the 19th century.

Joachim and the younger Stanford (also a violinist) were close friends and colleagues. Because of their shared love of chamber music, Stanford chose to commemorate Joachim with a string quartet.

The work has a wistfulness to it, but the quartet is hardly a gloomy work. The melodies sparkle and engage, often tinged with Stanford’s characteristic Irish lilt. There’s a lightness to the music that celebrates rather than mourns the death of this famous violinist and quartet player.

In the work, Stanford quotes a passage from Joachim’s Romance, Op. 2, No. 1. That work is thoughtfully included in the album for reference.

Stanford’s final quartet, his eighth, was finished in 1919 and remained unpublished. By that time, his music (modeled on German romanticism) was considered hopelessly old-fashioned. And so it may have been. But taken on its own merits, this quartet is wonderfully expressive composition.

Stanford imbues a restless urgency in the opening movement that returns in a quiet echo at the end of the work. In between is a gorgeously lyrical slow movement and (of course) an Irish music-inspired finale. It may have been out of date, but Stanford’s last quartet was an authentic expression of his musical voice.

The Dante Quartet give these works warm, sympathetic readings. Their refined delicate performances make the most of Stanford’s lyrical passages. The recording seems to give the ensemble a slightly hollow sound, but that’s a minor complaint. I’ve always enjoyed Stanford’s music, so for me, this recording is welcome, indeed.

Charles Villiers Stanford: String Quartets Nos. 5 & 8
Joseph Joachim: Romance Op. 2, No. 1
Dante Quartet
Somm SOMMCD 0160
World premiere recordings

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