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Charles Villiers STANFORD (1852-1924)
String Quintet No. 1 in F major, Op. 85 (1903) [28:02]
String Quintet No. 2 in C minor, Op. 86 (1903/4) [30:16]
Three Intermezzi for Cello and Piano, Op. 13 (1880) [8:11]
Krysia Osostowicz, Ralph de Souza (violin), Yuko Inoue, Garfield Jackson (viola), Richard Jenkinson (cello)
Benjamin Frith (piano)
rec. 2019, St. Nicholas Parish Church, Thames Ditton, UK (Quintets);
2018, Turner Sims, Southampton, UK (Intermezzi)
First Recordings (opp. 13 & 85)

It was the violinist Joseph Joachim who kindled Stanford’s interest in chamber music. His annual pilgrimages to England no doubt enabled the Dublin born composer to hear the Joachim Quartet, founded in 1869. In fact, in 1859 Stanford, the school boy, met the great violinist in Dublin. The composer’s 8 String Quartets, Piano Quintet and Suite for Violin and Orchestra could be said to have been motivated by Joachim and his quartet. Somm have completed their traversal of the Quartets, lovingly performed by the Dante Quartet, and now progress to the two String Quintets. The personnel this time are members of the Dante and Endellion Quartets, with pianist Benjamin Frith joining cellist Richard Jenkinson for the Three Intermezzi. The Intermezzi and the Second Quintet are here receiving their first recordings.

The String Quintet No. 1 has some similarities to Brahms First String Quintet, Op. 88. Not only does it adopt the three movement structure, but the key is the same. Maybe Stanford was paying homage to Brahms, we’ll never know. It was composed in Malvern in 1903 and premièred at the Monday Popular Concerts in London the following year by the Kruse Quartet. The opening movement is swathed in luxuriant lyricism. The presence of two violas confers an added depth and richness to the overall texture of the music. The Andante is a lament which draws on traditional Irish music, described by Jeremy Dibble more specifically as “elaborate ornamental figurations from an archaic form of singing from the south-west of Ireland (now referred to as sean-nós, literally “old style”)”. The finale is a theme and expanding variations peppered with some Mendelssonian frolic. There’s a wistful backward glance to the middle movement ‘lament’ and then Stanford spices things up in Scherzo mode with a sprightly 9/8 Irish ‘hop jig’. The ‘lament’ makes yet a final appearance in the recapitulation and coda.

Around this time Stanford composed a second quintet “as a little tribute” to the 60th anniversary of Joachim’s British visits. For some reason it wasn’t published in the composer’s lifetime. Parts, however, were sent to Joachim in Berlin, where a performance took place on March 30, 1904. Five weeks later the Joachim Quartet performed it at St. James’ Hall in London. This is its première recording, specially edited for the occasion by Jeremy Dibble. Stanford chose the more serious key of C minor and cast the work in four movements. The first movement has a sombre autumnal glow and Haydn’s String Quartet Op. 76, No 2 ‘Fifths’ is quoted. There’s also some underlying turbulence along the way. The Andante is based on a traditional minuet theme, which sounds very Brahmsian in character. The theme is subjected to variation treatment. A light, airy will-o'-the-wisp Scherzo follows. A melancholic introduction ushers in the finale, which is noble and broad and, like the first movement, is tinted with autumnal hues.

The Three Intermezzi, Op. 13 were written for a clarinetist friend of the composer, Francis Galpin, whilst at Cambridge. The first performance took place at a Wednesday Popular Concert for the Cambridge University Musical Society in February 1880. The composer performed the piano part. The pieces were intended for the violin, and when published a cello and piano version was included. They constitute three charming morsels, overflowing with rich melody. Richard Jenkinson and pianist Benjamin Frith perform them with ebullience and an infectious smile.

The musicians in this recording play with real fire and commitment, and are admirable advocates for these superb scores. The performances are beautifully recorded in an ambience that confers warmth and intimacy. Who better than Jeremy Dibble, renowned authority and biographer of Stanford, to provide the accompanying booklet notes. None of the works on this disc had I heard before, but I’m immensely grateful to have made a first encounter.

Stephen Greenbank

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