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Hyperion Records

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Harvesting at Pangbourne on Thames (detail) by Henry Parker (1858-1930)
Private Collection / Bridgeman Art Library, London
Track(s) taken from CDH55459
Recording details: September 2003
Henry Wood Hall, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Andrew Keener
Engineered by Simon Eadon
Release date: February 2005
Total duration: 29 minutes 4 seconds

'These exemplary first recordings make the best possible case for all this rare material; sound and balance are first-class, too. A strongly recommendable issue, in sum, extensively annotated by Jeremy Dibble. Can we expect further instalments?' (Gramophone)

'These beautifully crafted and attractive string quartets, clearly indebted to Brahms and Mendelssohn, receive highly committed performances. The Fantasy for Horn and String Quartet, one of Stanford's last compositions, proves to be an unexpected bonus' (BBC Music Magazine)

'Jeremy Dibble's notes are excellent, as is the recording. On balance, this is a very worth-while issue of first-rate British chamber music which does not deserve the neglect which has befallen it' (International Record Review)

'This is fine music, beautifully played' (The Sunday Times)

'These two quartets are alive with melodic invention and supremely crafted … Stephen Stirling is a sweet-toned soloist alongside the consistently stylish playing of this fine Irish quartet' (Classic FM Magazine)

'The string quartet writing here reveals the composer at his most fecund and imaginative. The highly adept RTÉ Vanbrugh Quartet, which hails from Stanford's native Dublin, brings a terrific energy to these appetising works' (The Strad)

'The playing on this new Hyperion release is flawless, and their tonal palette perfect for Stanford's music. Stephen Stirling's horn in the Fantasy is warm and glowing. This is very highly recommended, and with a plea to the Vanbrugh and Hyperion for Stanford's remaining six quartets' (Fanfare, USA)

'If Stanford's other six [quartets] are as good as the two recorded here, unbelievably for the first time, they are all long overdue for revival' (Birmingham Post)

String Quartet No 1 in G major, Op 44
15-22 August 1891; commissioned by and dedicated to the Newcastle Chamber Music Society; first performed in Newcastle by the Cambridge University Musical Society Quartet on 22 January 1892

Allegro assai  [8'49]
Allegro molto  [5'31]

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Textural invention is at once evident in the opening of the String Quartet No 1 in G major, Op 44, where a pleasing thematic idea in the first violin is supported by a duet of running quaver counterpoint in the second violin and viola with punctuating pizzicato crotchets in the cello. The idea is subsequently developed by the cello as the paragraph expands, both in range and melody, until Stanford brings us to a pivotal Neapolitan harmony. Here the metre slows temporarily as the dynamics fluctuate between p and fp on spacious minim chords before yielding to the cello’s second subject in the dominant. The second group consists of several thematic strands—a broad melody initiated by the cello though continued by the first violin, a dotted figure which becomes increasingly more prominent, and an imitative figure reminiscent of Dvořák’s Symphony No 6—all of which figure prominently in the expansive development. To close the exposition Stanford gives us a reprise of the Neapolitan harmony from the transition and, in Mozartian fashion, a brief restatement of the opening idea. The highly processual development and recapitulation truly reveal the ambitious scope and concept of Stanford’s attitude to ‘absolute music’. Over the course of almost a hundred bars there is a sense of ebb and flow as one mood gives way to another, where a seamless sense of progression and variation provides an underlying continuum for a series of episodes in which thematic strands from the exposition emerge in new guises. Moreover, Stanford’s innate instinct for drama surfaces not only at climaxes but also at points of tonal catastrophe, notable instances being the re-appearance of the second subject (in C minor) and further tranquil interpretation of this material in D flat, an event which serves to calm the development’s more agitated disposition. An impression of transformation and developing variation also permeates the recapitulation, most notably in the extended coda where expositional ‘memories’ and developmental transformations are given further oxygen.

The Scherzo owes its variational rondo form to Brahms’s Symphony No 2. Each of the rondo repeats gives a different ‘version’ of the opening idea, while two ‘trios’ (marked Presto) are interrelated by material although they differ in their metrical treatment. A broad, generous diatonic melody, so abundant in Stanford’s mature instrumental works, occupies a central place in the slow movement. On its return Stanford adds an equally sonorous countermelody in the viola, the added texture of which provides a platform for the second subject’s impassioned climax. A gigue-like spirit infuses the fugal opening of the finale and the contrapuntal demeanour of this movement is disrupted only momentarily by the longer note-values of the second subject (though even here the gigue rhythms continue to pervade the background). It is a movement for virtuosos and was no doubt written with the accomplishment of Gompertz’s CUMS Quartet (which included Haydn Inwards, Emil Kreuz and Charles Ould) in mind.

The first performance of the Op 44 Quartet, by the CUMS Quartet, took place in Newcastle on 22 January 1892. The composer was not there to hear it since, in the weeks immediately prior to the performance, the influenza epidemic, so feared by Dvořák, spread to Ireland and was responsible for the death of Stanford’s four closest relatives including his mother. But after a holiday convalescing in Limerick to recover what he described to J A Fuller Maitland as his ‘scattered and stunned senses’, he heard Gompertz and the quartet play the work in Cambridge on 17 February. It was given its London premiere at a Monday Popular Concert at St James’s Hall on 27 November 1893, with Lady Hallé, Alfred Gibson, Kreuz and Piatti, where it gained the approbation of Bernard Shaw.

The Op 44 Quartet was dedicated to the Newcastle Chamber Music Society.

from notes by Jeremy Dibble © 2005

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