SARATOGA SPRINGS — The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center’s summer season at SPAC got off to a rousing start on Sunday afternoon. The concert was anchored by the Danish String Quartet, which will also be performing in Tuesday evening’s program at the Spa Little Theater.
The opener, Beethoven’s Quartet in G Major Op. 18, No. 2, was an ideal vehicle to showcase the Danish Quartet. Their sound was crystalline, finely polished, pristine yet not precious. Early in the first movement, they seemed to operate at two dynamic levels, resulting in a gorgeous layering of sounds within sounds.
As an early work of Beethoven, the piece owes a debt to Haydn, which came through in that opening movement. The composition and the playing took on more weight as it progressed with the Scherzo taking on real vigor. Even here, the quartet’s sound was striking, with a tactile presence, like grains of sand. Cellist Frederik Schøyen Sjölin played with an unabashedly strong presence, adding an appealing breadth to the overall sound.
Next up was Grieg’s Sonata in A Minor for Cello and Piano, Op. 36. Cellist Jakob Koranyi started with a lean and wiry sound while pianist Juho Pohjonen showed an ever present gift for legato phrasing. Grieg’s music is so wedded to the Norwegian landscape that it’s hard not to go for a nature metaphor. From that mindset: the cello was the toiling river and the piano the mighty mountains and cliffs. Together they make a perfect picture.
This contrasting mix reached its climax in the Andante movement. In ever louder and more agitated playing the cello seemed to ask questions, to demand answers. The piano was un-phased, never rising to the bate, but always giving the same serene answer: beauty, beauty, beauty.
Schubert’s Quintet in C Major Op. 163 brought Koranyi into the fold of the Danish Quartet and delivered to the wildly enthusiastic audience a treasure of the chamber music repertoire.
The Adagio had a striking sense of stasis. Within that calm came an extended duet between first violin and first cello. Their melodies had a slow melodic and dynamic convergence.
The work’s most famous melody comes in the Scherzo, which was rollicking and winning. In the final Allegretto the secondary theme was given a consoling quality but things ended in high spirits.
After prolonged ovations, the full quintet returned with an encore, a transcription of a song by Carl Nielsen.