Danish String Quartet Plays at the Rose Studio

The young players of the superb Danish String Quartet have been performing the four quartets by Denmark’s own Carl Nielsen ever since their student days. Yet these players had never performed all four on a single program until Thursday evening at the intimate Rose Studio, in a concert presented by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.

It makes intuitive sense that artists from Denmark would play Nielsen’s scores so distinctively. Still, what exactly is “Danish” about Nielsen’s music? Even these players have trouble answering that question, a difficulty that came through in charming introductory comments from Asbjorn Norgaard, the ensemble’s violist, about the String Quartet No. 3 in E flat, completed in 1898.

Nielsen wrote this piece while temporarily separated from his wife. You can hear his turmoil, Mr. Norgaard said, in the expansive opening Allegro and the hymnal Andante, suffused with bittersweet lyricism. But in the last two movements, Mr. Norgaard observed, the mood changes, and the music turns almost goofy. Some people, he added, think that this is “a Danish thing,” to be “very deep and very superficial at the same time.” But, he added dryly, “we don’t know about that.”

What they do know is how to be an exceptional quartet, whatever repertorythey play. (The other members are the violinists Frederik Oland and Rune Tonsgaard Sorensen and the cellist Fredrik Schoyen Sjolin.) In this commanding account of the Third Quartet, the first movement sounded like music trying to be an exuberant late-Romantic Allegro, but roughed up by modernist jolts and sudden shifts. The slow movement unfolded with glowing sound and smoothness. The final two movements were slyly playful, especially the finale, a wild-eyed rustic dance.

What makes Nielsen’s quartets seem the work of someone Danish came through, for me, with the Quartet No. 2 in F minor (1890). Nielsen, 24 at the time, wrote the piece in Germany, where he had gone to study. Though the work hews to a traditional four-movement structure, the teeming music “jumps from one idea to the next, forgetting about the old one,” as Mr. Norgaard put it. Nielsen showed the piece to the great violinist and conductor Joseph Joachim, who praised it but suggested ways to make it less radical. The young Nielsen ignored him. Maybe that was something essentially Danish: to come from a place close enough to the centers of new music in Germany to learn something, but culturally removed enough to stick to your own instincts.

The String Quartet No. 1 in G minor (1887-88) already shows Nielsen searching for his own voice. The Quartet No. 4 in F (1906, later revised) is almost Neo-Classical in character. Yet just below its pleasing surface, the music abounds in quirky strangeness.

This rewarding program was the second installment in the society’s series of complete cycles of string quartets by five composers. Coming before the end of the season are Bartok, Ginastera and Leon Kirchner.

Link to review


Den Danske Strygekvartet åbnede deres festival med voldsom dramatik

DSQ ramte den rigtige balance mellem hyggeligt samvær og den rigtig seriøse kunst.

Ingen danser ædru’, står der på et hjemmelavet skilt på latin over den lille bar i det højloftede koncertrum i det, der engang var Søetatens Pigeskole i Nyboder. Så er stemningen slået fast. Den Danske Strygekvartets minifestival er igen i år klassisk kultur kombineret med hygge og fest. Alle tre aftener er udsolgt – også selv om prisen i år er hævet fra »frivillig entré ved udgangen« til 30 kr. per koncert. Men så er der også lejet toiletvogn til fadøllerne.

Åbningskoncerten bød helt regulært på noget af det smukkeste, men også mest alvorlige, den tyske kammerromantik frembragte i 1800-tallet. Spillet med liv og sjæl af kvartetten og deres tre gæstemusikere i forskellige konstellationer: sekstetten fra Richard Strauss’ opera ’Capriccio’, Beethovens sidste strygekvartet og den tredje klaverkvartet af Johannes Brahms. Alt sammen tyktflydende stof med indbygget drama. Alle værker, der ligger perfekt til de fire pågående herrer i Den Danske Strygekvartet og deres intense spillestil.

Et sjældent nærvær
For mig var højdepunktet Beethovens energiske musik. Men det kan nok diskuteres – for der var godt nok også smæk på de andre værker. Men hos Beethoven blev musikkens arkitektur mærkbar for enhver i et sjældent nærvær. Bortset fra tredjesatsen – med sine langsomme, tunge skridt fra den dybeste melankoli til et lidt mere venligt sted – var det musik bygget i to. En grundlæggende venlig verden af småspil og tilforladelige melodier med eksplosioner af samlede klange kilet ind som fede udråbstegn her og der.

Kvartetten havde besluttet at føre den tanke meget konsekvent igennem, og det specielle ved de her musikere er, at når de samler sig, får det nogle meget voldsomme virkninger.

Buddet på Beethovens musik var, som hele festivalen, meget personligt, og det havde en umiddelbar appel. Bag mig sad fire yngre københavnere, hvor den ene havde slæbt de tre andre til deres første koncert med kammermusik. Og de var helt åbenlyst solgt til musikken allerede efter den indledende scenemusik af Strauss, der smukt bevægede sig frem mod et tiltagende mørke og vemod.

Johannes Brahms’ store klaverkvartet i c-mol tog tråden op efter pausen med øjeblikkelig dramatik. 35 minutter som hidsigt bølgende forløb, stræbende mod store konklusioner, som først kom til allersidst. Både i Strauss’ korte strygerpoesi og i klavertrioen fungerede det rigtig fint med gæstemusikerne – i forhold til den svære balance mellem instrumenter med forskellige grundvilkår – og i selve fortolkningerne. I virkeligheden var de eneste sprækker i den homogene kammermusik, når der indimellem opstod lidt usædvanlige stemningsproblemer mellem strygekvartettens medlemmer.

Forsigtig dans
Både musikken af Beethoven og Brahms tilbød publikum tilstande af alvor, som man i virkeligheden havde svært ved at være i særlig længe ad gangen. For så at løsne op med lidt underspillet humor eller forsigtig dans.

Festivalens arrangører introducerede til musikken uformelt og interessant fra scenen og sørgede på den måde selv for den helt rigtige balance mellem almindeligt, hyggeligt samvær – og den rigtig seriøse kunst. Mere af det!

Link til anmeldelsen


Boyish Danish String Quartet all business on stage

Music for the string quartet constitutes the musical centre of any organization, like the Calgary Pro Musica Society, whose mission is to bring to its audience the best in chamber music. And it is only natural for there to be a constant look out for the next hot property.

A year ago, fresh from its win in the Banff International String Quartet composition the Dover Quartet wowed the audience and jury, going on to increasing fame and fortune. But in the twinkling of an eye things can change, and the already crowded world of fine young string quartets will have to squeeze a little tighter to include (for North America, at least) a newcomer: The Danish String Quartet.

Boyishly tousled, and sporting Justin Trudeau’s concept of hair, the quartet is all business when it is on stage, its performance persona as sensitively inward and reflective as the Dover Quartet is North American in its extroverted approach. Most of the music in this concert was of the kind that makes its musical points when performed with ultra refinement, pliancy of phrasing and tone, and a sense of reflection. In music of this type, the Danish Quartet has no peer.

This was evident from the outset in the wonderfully crafted account of Haydn’s rarely heard String Quartet in C major, Op. 54, No. 2, one of the composer’s most quirky works, and with more than the usual amount of slow, lyrical music. The performance was a lesson in how to penetrate into Haydn’s unique musical world, filled with articulated musical classic-period grammar and humour. The balance and good taste in projecting these musical values was on full display here, the humanity of Haydn’s music coming through at all times. This was especially notable in the unique slow movement and in the quirky finale, both of which emerged as special and crafted with real individuality. The syntax of Classic period music, so difficult to find in performances these days, was the strongest side of this performance, making The Danish String Quartet one of the current masters of this style of music.

The concert included Thomas Ades first string quartet, entitled Arcadiana. As the quartet mentioned from the stage, Ades is a hot property today, his operatic works and many other pieces regularly performed and sought-after by performing groups. This earlier work was attractive and was certainly well performed, particularly in the O Albion movement that has already found a niche among music lovers. Overall, the quartet is clearly the work of a highly capable composer, even if the titles of the movement appeared to be more a composer’s conceit than of particular use to a listener. Mostly abstract and spare, the individual movements drew imaginatively conceived sounds and textures from the members of the quartet, the piece emerging as a series of miniature musical poems in a modernist style. Presented with evident understanding and commitment, the work provided an excellent contrast to the Haydn, if proving a bit challenging for the audience.

The final work on the concert was Beethoven’s final string quartet (Op. 135), which, like the opening work, found the players in excellent form. More lyrical than dramatic, this quartet, with its strikingly beautiful slow movement, was the perfect vehicle to showcase what the Danish Quartet does so exceptionally well — perfect balance within the individuality of the players, and with the emphasis upon lyricism.  But there was energy and good humour here as well as, including a fine projection of Beethoven’s wry wit in the final movement.

It its conception of quartet performance the Danish Quartet stands slightly to the side of what North American audiences normally encounter. They have the courage to play to the centre of the music, trusting that the audience will follow if this centre is strongly and clearly articulated — and this it most certainly is. The opposite of the notion of “playing to the audience,” this approach offers its own special internal world, giving the Danish Quartet its individual performing voice in a world frequently notable only for its efficiency. It was a concert to treasure.

Link to review