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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: 27 minutes 12 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 2 in A minor, Op 45
26 August to 25 September 1891; dedicated to Richard Gompertz; first performed by the Cambridge University Musical Society Quartet at Prince's Hall, Piccadilly, on 13 February 1894

Prestissimo  [2'35]
Allegro molto  [7'29]

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
The String Quartet No 2 in A minor, Op 45, was dedicated ‘freundschaftlich’ to Richard Gompertz, whose character appears to be enshrined in the arabesque-like writing for the first violin in the slow movement. The premiere of Op 45 was given by Gompertz and the CUMS Quartet at the Prince’s Hall in Piccadilly on 13 February 1894. The work appealed to Shaw, who enthusiastically described it as ‘a genuine piece of absolute music, alive, with feeling from beginning to end, and free from those Stanfordian aberrations into pure cleverness which remind one so of Brahms’s aberrations into pure stupidity’. A number of further performances followed by the Musical Guild (an important promoter of British chamber music at the end of the nineteenth century), by Gompertz at a Monday Popular Concert and by Lady Hallé. By comparison with Op 44, the Op 45 Quartet is a work of more vivid contrasts and extremes. There is a marked disparity between the sinewy counterpoint of the first movement’s opening idea (which occurs ritornello-like throughout the movement) and the more poetic second subject in the submediant. Both these ideas, in different guises, haunt the rest of the work. The brisk, rhythmically dynamic Scherzo, marked Prestissimo, is a Beethovenian affair par excellence, stunningly scored for the quartet. As if to quell the irresistible excitement and élan of the previous movement, Stanford’s slow movement is a deeply felt, emotionally probing essay in which all the players of the quartet are provided with exposed and demanding roles in keeping with the reinterpretation of the first movement’s material expressed in a more extreme and passionate manner. A foil to the turbulence of the slow movement (which anticipates those powerful corresponding movements of the fifth and sixth symphonies) is furnished by the ‘Eastern European’ flavour of the finale’s irregular opening theme, though this jaunty material itself is contrasted vividly with the sonorous second subject (in F major, like the first movement) where Stanford, perhaps for the first time in this work, reveals his deference to Brahms.

from notes by Jeremy Dibble © 2005

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