University of Chicago presents kicked off its 2014-15 season with a remarkable performance at Mandel Hall by the Danish String Quartet. Violinists Frederik Øland and Rune Tonsgaard Sørensen, violist Asbjørn Nørgaard and cellist Fredrik Schøyen Sjölin were thrilling in performances of works by Haydn, Schubert and Thomas Agerfeldt Olesen.
They opened their concert with a riveting account of Haydn’s String Quartet in F minor, Op. 20, No. 5. They had brisk tempos featuring long, lingering phases. The Menuetto had pleasing dark colors and the Adagio featured some very pretty work by first violinist Sørensen. The counterpoint in the final movement was expertly rendered as were the exciting dynamics.
Before Thomas Agerfeldt Olesen’s String Quartet No. 7, “The Extinguishable” (a little joke on Carl Nielsen’s Fourth Symphony which bears the title “The Inextinguishable”), Nørgaard explained that the work had been written for them and that this was only the second performance of the new piece and the first performance outside Denmark. He said that Olesen “builds a prison for us” and suggested that while the work is both difficult to play and at times even to hear, that it offers many insights.
The quartet’s performance was clearly committed and they reveled in the score’s intense moments. The piece moves easily from periods with no tonal center to moments of traditional tonal melodies. The work was unusual and exciting containing a few moments of uncommon beauty as the four voices created a luminous sort of hum.
The concert concluded with a vigorous performance of Schubert’s String Quartet in G Major, D.887. The quartet brought tremendous energy and excitement with blooming phrases and crisp, perfect staccatos. They created well-drawn tension and had a remarkable unity throughout.
It was enough to make for a perfect night, but they added yet one more pleasure: their encore was a pretty little Danish wedding song in an attractive arrangement both modern and timeless.