City of London Festival – Danish String Quartet at Plaisterers’ Hall – Nielsen, Beethoven’s Harp Quartet, and Wood Works
One of the attractions of the City of London Festival is the opportunity to attend venues that are seldom used for live performance. One such is Plaisterers’ Hall, which paid host to the Danish String Quartet (three Danes and one Norwegian) from Copenhagen.
The programme opened with a rare hearing for Carl Nielsen’s Second String Quartet (1890). Unlike its G-minor predecessor (itself revived by the Nightingale Quartet at the Barbican Centre last month, albeit privately), this work largely leaves behind the outward influences of Brahms and Dvořák – finding an often personal synthesis such as underpins the abrasive contrasts of its opening Allegro, the sombre eloquence of its slow movement, the pert vitality of its Scherzo or the surging decisiveness of its closing Allegro – the whole piece being consummately well-realised by these musicians.
Hardly less impressive was the reading of Beethoven’s ‘Harp’ Quartet that followed. There was a teasing humour to the first movement’s introduction which segued deftly into a suave take on its main Allegro, and then the Adagio sounded more than usually Haydnesque in its easeful pathos. If the Scherzo might have evinced even greater impetus (though it is marked Allegretto), the hushed transition into the finale was intently rendered and the latter’s ‘theme and variations’ unfolded with due insouciance to an incisive and determined close.
After the interval, the Danish Quartet diverted and entertained with a sequence of transcriptions from Nordic folk-music under the overall title of Wood Works, a range of songs and dances from Denmark, Norway and Sweden – commencing with the bracing elegance of ‘Sønderho Bridal Trilogy’, and taking in such gems as the poetic ‘Waltz after Lasse in Lyby’ before a suitably uproarious close. All nine pieces are found on Dacapo 8.226081, required listening for its ingenuity and ready appeal.
This was an excellent recital by an ensemble whose UK appearances will hopefully become more frequent on the basis of this well-received event. The musicians returned for an arrangement of the chorale from the finale of Nielsen’s Wind Quintet, making a poised and affecting encore.