ADÈS Arcadiana NØRGÅRD String Quartet No 1 ABRAHAMSEN String Quartet No 1

Though recorded five months earlier, this disc closely resembles a concert the Danish Quartet gave in October, marking the beginning of Thomas Adès’s Sonning Prize residency in Copenhagen. Out goes the highly reactive performance of Adès’s Piano Quintet (with the composer on keys) and in comes Per Nørgård’s little Quartetto breve, which makes a useful central pivot in a mirror-like programme where Adès’s Arcadiana reflects Abrahamsen’s 10 Preludes and vice versa.

Both the longer pieces present lessons in how to be disciplined with your material: Adès and Abrahamsen set themselves rigorous tasks and fulfil them as simply and as briefly as possible (which doesn’t mean the results are either simple or brief). Arcadiana looks at the same material as if through seven different twists of a kaleidoscope. In 10 Preludes, each movement looks backwards to its predecessor and forwards to its successor, arriving at a C major Classical pastiche that ‘sorts out the loose ends’ (Abrahamsen).

10 Preludes is something of a petri dish, a touchstone for the composer himself who has returned to it for technical and thematic inspiration since 1973. Its ‘étude’ footing (in a materialistic sense) shows, but the music is both energetic and extremely careful; the ninth prelude operates almost entirely on a unison but winds up among the most complex and fascinating.

I have reservations about Arcadiana, only because it shows how far Adès has come (since 1993) when viewed against a more recent masterpiece such as In Seven Days, which in a sense has the same goal but achieves more with less. Per Nørgård doesn’t look at the same object multiple times in his Quartetto breve; instead his piece from 1952 foreshadows his tapping of that Sibelian meta-flow which would deliver such powerful symphonies some years later. He explores a bunch of varied textures and themes along the way, but each arrives on its own terms. The Danish Quartet are more sepia-toned in Arcadiana than the Calder Quartet on their recent Signum recording, and the approach works. Elsewhere, the Danish are remarkable, as ever – capable of intense blend, extreme dynamic variation (in which they seem glued together), perfect intonation even on harmonics, and constant vitality and flow.


Danish String Quartet New Music

The Danish composer Hans Abrahamsen has been in the spotlight of late, thanks to the success of his chamber work “Schnee” and the extraordinary orchestral song cycle “Let Me Tell You.” But the ingenuity and clarity of that recent work goes all the way back to the beginning of his career, as evidenced by his early String Quartet No. 1, “10 Preludes.” Each movement in this collection of short character pieces from 1973, which caps the infectiously appealing new release from the Danish String Quartet, creates a distinctive landscape out of a few simple thematic ideas, and in each case Abrahamsen works out the implications with winning simplicity. Nothing is wasted, but at the same time the music has a humanistic robustness that marks a contrast to the austerity of midcentury modernism. The concision and rhetorical forthrightness of the “Quartetto Breve” by Abrahamsen’s teacher, Per Norgard, makes a fitting entree, and Thomas Adès’ gorgeously evocative “Arcadiana” — in a committed, slightly edgy performance — sets the recording on its suave course.


The Danish String Quartet’s Manifold Vision For Classical Music

The Danish String Quartet is one of the most widely acclaimed chamber groups at the moment — although, in the interest of full disclosure, we should tell you that one member of the quartet is actually Norwegian. The group has a new record calledAdès/Nørgard/Abrahamsen that features a program of Danish and British music.

The composers highlighted on this release — Thomas Adès, Per Nørgård and Hans Abrahamsen — hold a special place in the story of The Danish String Quartet. Recently, two of the group’s members — violist Asbjørn Nørgaard and violinist Frederik Øland — spoke with NPR’s Scott Simon about how the recording, and the group itself, came together. You can hear their conversation at the audio link, or read on for an edited version.

Scott Simon: The two of you, and violinist Rune Tonsgaard Sørensen, have known each other since before you were teenagers. How did that happen?

Frederik Øland: Well, the three of us — Rune, Asbjørn and I — we met at this music camp in Denmark. It’s only a week every summer, and you go there with people of all ages to just play music for a week — orchestra stuff, and then chamber music throughout the night. And you don’t sleep a lot, that’s for sure. So we were just hanging out there, playing our first chamber music together, playing soccer — even having our first beers together, later on! This was a very nice place to grow up, because it’s a place that’s full of love for the music.

How did the composers Thomas Adès, Per Nørgard and Hans Abrahamsen wind up sharing space on your album?

Asbjørn Nørgaard: Well, this is a recording that we have been talking about for a long time, but it took a while to realize. The Abrahamsen was almost the first quartet we learned, almost 15 years ago. At this point, we were quite young; we were still teenagers. We had an idea that classical music was mostly Brahms, Mozart, Haydn — kind of nice stuff. And then our chamber music teacher back then, he put in front of us this piece by Abrahamsen. We had never heard about this guy. We started to play and it sounded really crazy. It sounded more like heavy metal than classical music!

We really, really enjoyed playing it, to use our instruments in a completely different way, and to experience that a string quartet can morph from something that’s in a way very classical, very in-the-box, and then it can explode and morph into everything you can imagine. We always thought we would like to record that at some point.

A little bit later in our development, almost the same story happened with the Adès — his first string quartet, Arcadiana. This is classical music, but [one] particular movement, called “Tango Mortale,” is very rough, very rhythmical, very aggressive kind of music. It also became a part of the story of our quartet. So then we had these two pieces that we really wanted to match on the recording.

What’s the classical music audience like these days?

Nørgaard: That’s a very complicated question. And actually, I think it’s — if I might say so — almost a wrong question to ask, because we just think about ourselves as musicians, not as maybe classical musicians in the old way. I think today, if you train as a classical musician, you need to sustain a great degree of flexibility. You need to be able to be in a bar and perform and not be awkward. And in our experience, we do our own festival in Copenhagen, and we’ve built an audience here which is quite young, actually. So we don’t share this kind of pessimism about the classical music audience that’s “dying away,” that you sometimes read about in the media.

Do you have a favorite composition on this release that you’d like to point us to?

Nørgaard: If there’s one track on this album that will have a popular appeal, it’s a specific movement of the Adès quartet [called “O Albion”]. A friend of mine said he thinks this sounds like Coldplay. It’s a very beautiful slow movement, and it’s just an example that classical music is many things: It can be aggressive, it can be beautiful, it can be simple, it can sound like it was written 500 years ago, and it could sound like it is being improvised in the moment. And that’s the joy we have as a string quartet, and I think this album represented well. It can sound like Coldplay, it can sound like heavy metal and it can definitely also sound like classical music as you think it should sound.

Link to the interview


Strygere til nutiden

Spørgsmålet har luret i en del år: Hvornår ville Den Danske Strygekvartet bruge deres temmelig enestående greb om romantisk kammermusik til at puste liv i ny kompositionsmusik? Hvorfor skulle nulevende komponister ikke have glæde af ensemblets smukke balance og overvældende intensitet? Nu er pladen her så. Med musik af både Thomas Adés, Per Nørgård og Hans Abrahamsen, der helt aktuelt hver har modtaget en af musikkens største priser de seneste måneder. Og så på ECM. Pladeselskabet, der under Manfred Echers kyndige ledelse sørger for varm og præcis lys – og et højt alvorsniveau.

Og det lyder fantastisk godt. Nørgårds første kvartet fra den pure ungdom er højstemt dramatik i langsom opbygning mod en stille tilstand af en melankoli med en andensats, der piblende og rytmisk lyder, som om strygekvartetten har fået påhængsmotor. Med eksplosive udråbstegn og brede, samlede klange.

Også Abrahamsens ’10 Præludier’ er næsten et teenageværk holdt helt rent i varme klange, der langsomt og systematisk udvikler sig simpelt og mekanisk. Thomas Adés’ bidrag til cd’en hedder ‘Arcadiana’ og er syv små satser bygget af hver sin slags dramatik. Både den slags, der gynger og blæser, og den slags, der folder sig ind i sin egen intensitet. Hvor det lykkes at gå til stålet og holde balancen.