Stanford Quintets

0 of 5 stars

Piano Quintet in D minor, Op.25
String Quintet No.1 in F, Op.85

Piers Lane (piano)
RTÉ Vanbrugh String Quartet [Gregory Ellis & Keith Pascoe (violins), Simon Aspell (viola) & Christopher Marwood (cello)]
Garth Knox (viola)

Recorded between 17-19 November 2004 in Henry Wood Hall, London

Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood

Reviewed: January 2006
Duration: 65 minutes

Hyperion’s pioneering exploration of Sir Charles Villiers Stanford’s chamber music continues apace, and in doing so unearths a fine pair of compositions.

Particularly impressive is the Piano Quintet, Stanford’s only published essay in the form and dedicated to his close friend Joachim. Inevitably two composers of great piano quintet are near to hand, namely Brahms and Schumann, but Stanford’s grand work forges its own path.

The mysterious rumblings of the start establish the well-detailed recorded sound and the ability of Piers Lane and the Vanbrugh Quartet to extract maximum clarity from Stanford’s contrapuntal writing. This makes the melodic development easier to follow, and secures a triumph in the weighty first movement Allegro, its ending profoundly moving, almost sacred in character. The musicians then bring out the scherzo’s spiky dotted rhythms before digging in for the obdurate Adagio. Here the tempo seems to drag, but given the composer’s ‘espressivo’ marking the performers are persuasively ‘just right’, the unisons bringing to mind Fauré’s First Piano Quintet (in the same key). Certainly it makes quite an impact, so that the relatively carefree D major ‘risoluto’ finale that follows is a release, and a chance taken by the players to cut loose, Stanford’s battle seemingly won.

Only marginally less impressive is the marvellous First String Quintet, an altogether sunnier piece owing a small debt to Brahms’s first work in the idiom, identical in key and three-movement structure.

Additional viola-player Garth Knox teams up with Simon Aspell for a wonderful theme in the first movement, a nice contrast to the bright, upward principal subject. A serious slow movement follows in the relative D minor, before a feisty, scherzo-like Allegretto takes hold, breaking off for a declamatory section in the vein of Smetana. The Vanbrugh players and Knox bring high drama to this section, and close the piece on a sonorous high.

A superb disc, then, with musicianship of the highest order. With ever more of Stanford’s large output making it on to disc, these recordings – which both seem to have the mantle of world premieres – are of great value to anyone with an interest in late Romantic chamber music.

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