One weekend, two quartets

Reviews
13 August 2015 / Boston musical intelligencer

One weekend, two quartets

…The Danish String Quartet, making its Maverick debut, gave us another memorable concert on Sunday afternoon. The program was drastically different from the Miró’s: Nielsen, Adès, and Shostakovich. I’ve never thought Nielsen’s string quartets are his best work, and the Quartet No. 1, in G Minor, Op. 13, is quite early Nielsen (age 24), written in an idiom closer to DvoÍák than to Nielsen’s glorious late symphonies. But it’s an entertaining piece, and the DSQ played it with lots of energy and obvious affection. I particularly liked the roughness of the Scherzo, which came out sounding like a Danish barn dance.

Adès was also very young (23) when he wrote his Arcadiana, Op. 12, a 20-minute suite of seven movements. From the first movement, we are introduced to the composer’s collage technique; it includes pictorial elements, slides, and microtones, and seems to change style as often as a traditional composer would change harmony. Tonality comes and goes in this work like a stranger trying to find the entrance to your house. Some chaos in the second movement reminded me of Ives, and later in the movement complexities sounded rather like Carter. I wouldn’t say this work is a masterpiece, but it certainly holds the attention, and I thought the composer saved his best for last, a movement (“Lethe”) which uses harmonics and slow sustained music to suggest the river of forgetfulness for which it is named. The performance seemed completely dedicated and the audience responded with great enthusiasm.

We’ve heard plenty of Shostakovich at Maverick over the years, but his String Quartet No. 9, Op. 117, isn’t one of the Greatest Hits. Perhaps it should be. In this extremely vivid, persuasive performance, it sounded like one of the composer’s masterworks, and maybe it is. Like Schubert, Shostakovich sometimes seems to be writing almost straight from the subconscious. The intensity of the writing and the performance in the last movement was truly frightening.

The interpretive personalities and styles of these two ensembles seem to me quite distinct and different. Yet the Miró Quartet had plenty of rough vigor when the music required it, and the Danish String Quartet could be quite smooth and lovely. It was a gratifying weekend of music.

Leslie Gerber