Jeremy Dibble reminds
us that Stanford wrote a total of eight
string quartets between 1891 and 1919.
His seven symphonies were written over
much the same period. Each clearly had
a sustained magnetic pull on his creativity.
The symphonies have been brought out
into the light by Vernon Handley on
Chandos CDs. However, before him Norman
Del Mar recorded the Third for EMI and
BBC studio versions of some of the symphonies
were conducted by Alan Suttie, Handley,
Maurice Handford, Steuart Bedford, Nicholas
Braithwaite and Charles Groves. The
string quartets were not so lucky although,
during the 1960s, the Alberni and London
quartets performed numbers 7 and 8 on
BBC radio’s Third Programme.
On the evidence of
the first two quartets their orientation
is locked to the Brahmsian manner. In
this channel Stanford wrote with an
invincibly liberated fluency. It therefore
comes as no surprise to learn that Joachim
was Stanford's mentor from earliest
manhood until Joachim's death in 1907.
The first quartet and
the second share adjacent opus numbers.
They are both in four movements and
each has a playing time of about half
The First's allegro
assai looks towards Mozart and Dvořák
mixed in with the bohemian air of the
Smetana First Quartet From
My Life. Stanford writes with a
wonderful confidence and evokes a similarly
confident commitment from the Vanbrughs.
Try the second and final movements for
a wonderfully light-filled example of
naturalistic engineering and playing.
Mendelssohn's glorious String Octet
seems to have had its influence on the
The First Quartet had
its London premiere at St James Hall
on 27 November 1893. It had its world
premiere in Newcastle-upon-Tyne on 22
January 1892. This was given by the
Cambridge University Music Society quartet.
The Second Quartet
was praised by George Bernard Shaw as
a genuine piece of absolute music. He
lavished a similar encomium on its predecessor.
The first movement is severe but then
relaxes into a warm Viennese serenade
(1.55). The most remarkable movement
is the intensely lyrical and aureate
Andante Espressivo said to be
instinct with the character of the dedicatee
Richard Gompertz. The work is otherwise
busily bustling with snatches of Hungarian
dance-like material here and there amid
the voices of Mendelssohn, Smetana and
The 1922 Horn Fantasy
was written two years before Stanford's
death. It is a wonderfully effective
work superbly laid out for this far
from equable wedding of instruments.
The horn is expertly resolved into the
melos of the piece. It evinces
no sign of being the work of an old
man. The horn writing veers between
the Mozart concertos and Schumann in
the second and third symphonies and
the Konzertstück. Stanford expertly
spins the usual four movements into
a single span of only eleven minutes.
It ends amid rambunctious triumph recalling
the Strauss First Horn Concerto.
We must fervently hope
that this is the first of a series in
which Hyperion will record all eight
of these fine works. Be sure to snap
up this first instalment.