Dante Quartet

Charles Villiers Stanford: String Quartets Nos. 1, 2 & 6

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This release completes a cycle of three by the Dante Quartet, covering the eight string quartets of Charles Villiers Stanford. They've generally been well played, and so it is here. Stanford, like Brahms with the symphony, delayed his first attempts at quartet composition until he was 40, intimidated by the imposing models of Beethoven and his successors. That being so, listeners will be surprised to hear that the String Quartet No. 1 in G major, Op. 44, is pretty retro in style, its emulation of Mendelssohn (who still cast a strong shadow across the British Isles in 1891) interrupted only by some harmonic transitions that would have been a stretch for that composer. The String Quartet No. 2 in A minor, Op. 45, also falls squarely into Germanic traditions, although it's closer to Schumann than Mendelssohn. There is little of the Irish influence (Stanford was Irish) that George Bernard Shaw thought the strongest aspect of Stanford's music. The slow movements are the strongest, with intensely dramatic qualities that the Dante Quartet might have let loose on a bit more. The String Quartet No. 6 in A minor, Op. 122, is formally ingenious, with, among other things, a finale that neatly telescopes the scherzo and finale into a single movement. This quartet, despite its opus number, was never published; it's been assembled from manuscript by the present annotator, Jeremy Dibble. So there's plenty here to interest Stanford fans, although buyers wanting just one of the Dante Quartet's set might do better with another item in the group.

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