Exquisite nightmares

Helen Wallace relishes the Danish String Quartet’s atmospheric album

Adès Arcadiana sprang into being in 1994, reaching back to a Venice haunted by Britten and Liszt in a series of seven idyll hallucinogenic intensity. Curious young quartets immediately recognised a work of genius: this recording and Quatour Varèse’s (see following review) brings the tally to eight. Here vaulting imagination is so precisely mapped that poor performances are rare; but for share range and penetrating intelligence, this is my favourite. In the Danes’ hands the Elgarian ‘O Albion’ sheds its pale shroud and breaks the heart, while drunken pizzicatos and slithering dissolution in ‘Auf dem Wassen zu Singen’ have a thrilling abandon, and a ‘tango mortale’ comes at you with the force of a nightmare. What’s facinating is how these exquisite visions fugitives are clear kin to Abrahamsen’s kaleidoscopic 10 Preludes (1973). These terse miniatures seems to ask quistions about the nature of composition at that point in time, answering each with probing wit, captured here with bristling style. More powerful still is Nørgård’s first quartet from 1952: Bartók and Holmboe are present in the explosive rhythms of the Allegro but already the 20-year-old composer is playing with intervals rather than keys, interrogating their intensity, their translucence and opacity from different perspectives.

***** Performance
***** Recording