A night of Scandi blue dreaming

Reviews
12 January 2017 / London Evening Standard

A night of Scandi blue dreaming

The Danish String Quartet’s outlined the ambiguities of Alfred Schnittke’s music without any exaggeration, writes Nick Kimberley

Perhaps it was because the musicians were the Danish String Quartet, but last night’s performance of Alfred Schnittke’s Third String Quartet seemed like the soundtrack for a Scandi noir thriller.

Written in 1983, it’s a work that tries to consume the whole string quartet tradition, refashion it, then spit it out. The opening’s woozy glissandos and siren-like whines led to wisps of melody that drifted up, then ebbed away, while the second movement began jauntily, but ended in marvellously controlled turmoil. The finale offered no sense of settlement; the music simply ceased to exist.

The DSQ outlined Schnittke’s mysterious ambiguities without any exaggeration. It made a startling contrast with the Haydn that preceded it. Here, the players blended smoothly without any loss of individuality. The second movement proved particularly alluring, the first violin injecting a folkish tinge, as if lamenting lost love, while the other instruments sighed sympathetically.

First and second violins swapped roles for Beethoven’s second “Razumovsky” quartet. At first the playing seemed a little too poised, but the second movement gathered momentum, the third movement’s dancing rhythms were laid out with real swagger, then as all four players dug a little deeper, the final movement had some pleasingly rough edges.

That would have made a satisfying ending, but there was an encore, an arrangement of a 12th-century song about dreaming. It was ethereal, tinged with melancholy – Scandi blue, perhaps.

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Nick Kimberley