STANFORD String Quartets Nos 5 & 8
Stanford’s Fifth String Quartet walks out with a spring in its step and a song on its lips: not, perhaps, what you might expect from its subtitle, In Memoriam Joseph Joachim. In fact, as Jeremy Dibble explains in the booklet-notes, this isn’t a work of mourning so much as a celebration of a 50-year friendship: Joachim, said Stanford, ‘was not the sort of man whose memory could be associated with sadness’. He quotes Joachim’s Romance, Op 2 No 1, as a sort of motto-theme; it crops up at about 8'10" in the first movement and again at 5'06" in the second. Appropriately, Somm has included Joachim’s original on the disc for comparison.
In fact, this whole disc serves Stanford handsomely. These are premiere recordings, but the Dante Quartet speak Stanford’s lyrical, lucid but slightly reticent late-Romantic language like natives. Other groups may have a more streamlined sound but there’s a genuine sense here of four individuals in conversation; a spontaneity, too, that evokes a live occasion.
The third movement of the Eighth Quartet is a good place to take the measure of these performances, with the individual players taking turns to declaim the melody against a surging accompaniment. This is Stanford at his most ardent (his Irish roots show through in the finale); elsewhere the Dantes do a wonderfully natural and unaffected job of letting the poetry seep out from beneath Stanford’s civilised exterior. In its understated way, this music gets under your skin. Clear, warm sound completes a really worthwhile release.