Movement 1: Allegro
Movement 2: Andante
Movement 3: Allegretto
Conceived in three movements (like Brahms’s String Quintet No 1, Op 88, in the same key), the First Quintet begins with a buoyant, flowing, exultant Allegro, full of warmth and rich scoring (here, as in his orchestral scoring, Stanford shows a felicity gleaned largely from Mendelssohn, which so clearly distinguishes his style from the heavier manner of Brahms). The Andante drew critical attention for its assimilation of Irish traditional music. Drawing its elaborate ornamental figurations from the old style of singing from the south-west of Ireland (now referred to as ‘sean nós’), the movement is a lament which demands a good deal of rubato and liberal treatment of the metre. ‘[Kruse] played it very “free”’, Stanford pointed out to Joachim ‘and I think it gained by it greatly.’ Stanford elected to merge the scherzo and finale into one larger superstructure whose construction was governed by an overarching scheme of a theme and variations. The third movement itself consists of a series of expanding variations that moves from F major through D minor to D major. This shift to D facilitates an unexpected reprise of the slow movement which is restated almost operatically (Stanford marks it ‘quasi recit.’) above a tremolando accompaniment. After the memory of the lament has receded, the first viola breaks into a much more extended sonata movement in 9/8 time (characteristic of the ‘hop jig’) whose primary material is based on the original theme of the Andante. This is the finale proper and functions cleverly in several ways: first, it provides a fitting conclusion to the larger variation scheme; secondly, it functions subtly as a recapitulation of the F–D dialectic established in the earlier variations; and thirdly, it affords a telling conclusion to the broader architectonic contrast of the first two movements (also in F major and D minor respectively), a relationship Stanford surely wished us to grasp through two further allusions to the lament theme of the second movement in the recapitulation and coda.
from notes by Jeremy Dibble © 2005