String Quintets 1 & 2
Three Intermezzi for Cello and Piano
Benjamin Frith Piano
Members of the Dante Quartet
Krysia Osostowicz Violin
Yuko Inoue Viola
Richard Jenkinson Cello
Members of the Endellion Quartet
Ralph de Souza Violin
Garfield Jackson Viola
There is a sense that Stanford’s chamber music is at last getting the attention it deserves. Despite being recognised in his lifetime as an important late romantic composer the twentieth century programmers largely wrote him off as being second class.
This was sheer prejudice and he is emerging as the successor in London musical life to Brahms, along with Parry. The link between Brahms and Stanford is the violinist Joseph Joachim, for whom these two Quintets were written (though he seems only to have performed the first) in 1903. And Stanford’s influence as a teacher means that his harmonic language is traceable in British chamber music until at least the 1970s. It seems extraordinary that it has taken well over a hundred years to bring the quintets back together.
Only the First Quintet has been recorded before, though it is arguably less interesting than the Second which shows the broad scope of his writing, partly because of its four movement structure (the First only has three) but partly because of the drama of the material, though Stanford refers tellingly to his Irish roots in the slow movement Andante of the first, giving it a more improvisatory feel than the carefully controlled flow of its counterpart in the second work.
The quintet of performers on this recording may be from different quartets but they have all been part of London’s music scene for decades and played with each other down the years in many formats. The result is that their familiarity with each other makes the music feel familiar to the listener, even when it is obviously not.
The Three Intermezzi were earlier works written for either violin or cello and this is the first recording of the cello version. The quality Richard Jenkinson and Benjamin Frith find in them makes me wish Stanford had had the inclination to expand them beyond eight minutes into a proper cello sonata. This is musical archaeology of the highest order and they stand together with Dante’s issues of the String Quartets, also on SOMM: true delights.