Dante Quartet

Charles Villiers Stanford: String Quartets Nos. 3, 4 & 7

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Britain's Dante Quartet seems to be in the middle of a cycle devoted to the string quartets of Charles Villiers Stanford; this is the second album devoted to this little-known repertory, all of which are receiving their recorded premieres here. As with Brahms and the symphony, Stanford turned late to the string quartet, and all three works here were composed after he had turned 50. His style did not really evolve, anyhow; he was notoriously hostile to modern music. But you may be imagining ponderous works in line with Stanford's choral music, and that's not really what these quartets are like. They do tend to bring to mind George Bernard Shaw's comment that Stanford was at his best when he was at his most Irish. The outer movements are dense, ambitious pieces that have everything except the memorable-tune layer that makes Brahms' chamber music work, but the inner movements are something else again: lyrical, irregular, and arguably Irish, although there aren't really folk influences beyond occasional pentatonicism. Sample the Adagio for the String Quartet No. 4 in G minor, Op. 99, with its lush harmonies and passionate tone. The finales tend to be rhythmic romps in a Dvorak vein. The Dante Quartet's performances are clean, and alert to the unexpected qualities of the inner movements. Whether these works will reenter the chamber music repertory is debatable, but it's a question worth considering.

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