Overview

Recording of the Month

This is the first in a series of releases by the Danish String Quartet under the title ‘Prism’, each of which will present one of Beethoven’s late string quartets alongside a related fugue by J.S. Bach and another linked work from the quartet literature. Prism I is built around the key of E-flat and the first of Beethoven’s late quartets, Op. 127 in E-flat Major. Bach’s Fugue in E-flat Major, BWV 876 was one of five from the Well-Tempered Clavier that Mozart transcribed for string quartet, and both Mozart and Beethoven shared a deep admiration of Bach. Dmitri Shostakovich’s final string quartet, No. 15 in E-flat minor, a hauntingly enigmatic set of six adagios that can trace its ancestral line back to Beethoven’s late quartet slow movements, including the Adagio, mon non troppo e molto cantabile of his Op. 127.

Poise, elegant restraint and an exacting adherence to the scores are the essence of this superb recording. Bach’s Fugue is played with appropriate reserve as a prelude to the Shostakovich. It could easily be more playful, but that’s not what this programme is about. Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 15 is a serious prospect, and the Danish Quartet plays with hardly any vibrato, the long opening Elegy a moment in time suspended to a kind of infinity. Lack of vibrato should not be confused with a lack of expression here however. This playing has a purity that takes us deeply into Shostakovich’s melancholy mood, and the subtle touches of vibrato we are given heighten this effect while delivering the essence of the music rather than showcasing the players. Those razor-like crescendo notes in the Serenade are almost entirely consistent between the players, the drama present and oppressive, but always supremely in control. Other quartets take us closer to what sounds like a breaking point, but there by no means a shortage of dynamic range or drama here. Six slow movements might seem a daunting prospect, but there is lightness and transparency to be found here as well; the Danish players making the Nocturne into an atmospheric and ghostly space only just abandoned by dancers whose delicately formal movements made the cobwebs shift almost imperceptibly. The harder-hitting Funeral March has plenty of passion in the playing in this recording, though once again restraint in the vibrato keeps us in balance, the dynamics being ‘real’ rather than ‘projected’ or perceived as a side-effect of more frenetic finger-work. The final Epilogue opens frenetically enough, but the underlying momentum becomes a memory, poignant and ephemeral, and ultimately subsumed by a mood similar to the opening.

The transitions between all of these seemingly disparate works are surprising ear-openers. The related keys help of course, but there’s an undeniable musical narrative going on here and a freshness of context that adds to the sheer quality of the performances. I won’t go on at length about this recording of Beethoven’s Op. 127. This reminds me of that timeless recording the Busch Quartet made way back in the 1930s and has remained a benchmark ever since (review). The timings for the first two movements are as close as makes no difference, and while the Danish Quartet is a tad broader in the Scherzo they still manage to keep that high-tensile sense of suppressed drama the music needs. That slow second movement is to where the attention is most drawn, and the Danish Quartet is as sublime and timeless as you could wish for. There is enough momentum to prevent things falling apart, but Beethoven’s expansion of his material as far as it can go and beyond is as well played here as I think I’ve ever heard on a recording. The Busch Quartet was willing to stretch things a little further in the first few pages than the Danish Quartet, which is perhaps marginally more ‘straight’, but still plumbing the depths and singing with hypnotic clarity from Beethoven’s other-world.

There are of course comparisons to be had with this repertoire, but this recording is a unified package in its own right. The Brodsky Quartet presents a more heart-on-sleeve image of the Shostakovich quartet in their live recording (review), but this is part of the character of their whole set. The Fitzwilliam Quartet on Decca with its working connection with the composer and its 1970s authentic flavour will always have a unique place, but even with these aspects my preference in this work would now lean towards the Danish Quartet for its impeccable balance and coherence of emotional arc through the whole piece. When it comes to the Beethoven I picked out the Borodin Quartet on Chandos (review) more because the set was handy rather than it being an ideal reference. This is a good enough performance, but not quite as profound or keenly accurate as that from the Danish Quartet. There are of course plenty of others around, but with an intriguing and impressively effective concept and such superlative performances this Prism series looks like becoming one every string quartet collector should covet.

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Overview

Danskere er blandt de nominerede til en Grammy

Dirigenten Thomas Dausgaard og Den Danske Strygekvartet er nomineret til en Grammy.

I 2017 var det Lukas Graham, der var det store danske håb til at løbe med USA’s største musikpris.

I år er der to danske navne, der blander sig med musikere som Lady Gaga, Kendrick Lamar og Drake på listen over nominerede til en Grammy for en udgivelse i 2018.

Det er i kategorierne ‘Bedste kammermusik’ og ‘Bedste orkesterpræstation’, at der er danske kunstnere blandt de nominerede.

Den Danske Strygekvartet er nomineret for deres album ‘Prism I’ i kategorien ‘Bedste kammermusik’, mens dirigenten Thomas Dausgaard er nomineret for to symfonier af den danske komponist Carl Nielsen sammen med Seattles Symfoniorkester.

Fuldt fortjent
Den Danske Strygekvartet består af de to violinister Rune Tonsgaard Sørensen og Frederik Øland, Asbjørn Nørgaard på bratsch og Frederik Schøyen Sjölin på cello, og selv om navnene måske ikke klinger bekendt for alle, er de fire mænd meget kendte inden for klassisk musik.

Og det er fuldt fortjent, at de er blevet nomineret til en Grammy, mener Thomas Michelsen, der er musikredaktør på Politiken.

– De har arbejdet benhamrende seriøst på at nå toppen, lige siden de studerede sammen på konservatoriet. De har spillet sammen nærmest altid – nogle af dem siden de var børn. De har arbejdet sig op på et niveau nu, hvor de bliver respekteret og anerkendt ude i verden og får virkeligt gode anmeldelser både i USA og andre steder, siger han.

De har deres egen cool og nordiske lyd, og så er de bare håndværkere på topniveau, forklarer musikredaktøren, der har fulgt kvartettens karriere tæt.

– Deres intonation – altså hvor rent de spiller – er bare på plads. De lytter til hinanden på en måde, så de trækker vejret sammen og spiller, som om de er én organisme, siger Thomas Michelsen.

Eksotisk Dansk
Grammy-uddelingen finder sted 10. februar 2019 i Los Angeles, og der gives priser i 84 kategorier.

Den anden danske nominerede er dirigenten Thomas Dausgaard, der tidligere har været chefdirigent for DR Symfoniorkesteret. Næste år tiltræder han som chefdirigent for Seattles Symfoniorkester.

Han har indspillet to symfonier af den danske komponist Carl Nielsen, og det er for den indspilning, han er nomineret til en Grammy.

– Carl Nielsen er stor i Danmark, men i udlandet er han nok lidt eksotisk. Thomas Dausgaard er en dirigent, der qua sin danske baggrund virkelig kender Carl Nielsen og hans musik. Med den ekspertise og de virkeligt gennemtænkte og gennemarbejdede bud på Carl Nielsen giver det udslag i, at han nu kan blive nomineret i den her forbindelse, siger Thomas Michelsen.

Vinderchancer
Den Danske Strygekvartet konkurrerer mod fire andre i deres kategori, og Thomas Michelsen vurderer, at det ikke er usandsynligt, at der kan komme en Grammy på danske hænder til februar.

Og hvis det sker, er det et stort internationalt spotlys, der bliver rettet mod de danske strygere.

– Det fører opmærksomhed med sig, og det er et kvalitetsstempel. På den måde får de yderligere opmærksomhed. Hvis de ender med at få den her Grammy i Los Angeles, så kigger hele den klassiske musikbranche på dem i endnu højere grad, end de har gjort før, siger Thomas Michelsen.

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Overview

Tæt på en Grammy: Danskere er nomineret til USAs største musikpris

Både dirigenten Thomas Dausgaard og Den Danske Strygekvartet er indstillet til en Grammy.

Hvad har Lady Gaga, Thomas Dausgaard, Drake og Den Danske Strygekvartet til fælles? De er alle nomineret til en Grammy for en udgivelse i 2018.

De to danske bidrager dog i en lidt anden boldgade end hitliste-stormere som Kendrick Lamar, Drake og Cardi B: De er begge nomineret for indspilninger af klassisk musik.

Dirigenten Thomas Dausgaard har indspillet to symfonier af den danske komponist Carl Nielsen sammen med Seattles Symfoniorkester. For den indspilning er de nomineret til en Grammy i kategorien “bedste orkester præstation”.

Dausgaard overtager iøvrigt chef-taktstokken for Seattle-orkestret i september 2019, så der er rig mulighed for at fortsætte præstationerne i fremtiden.

De fire yngre musikere i Den Danske Strygekvartet er nomineret i Grammy-kategorien “bedste kammermusik” for deres album ‘Prism I’, der indeholder musik for fire strygere af de tre store klassiske komponister BeethovenSjostakovitj og Bach.

Albummet udløste tidligere i år anmelderros i både ind- og udland, og Politiken kvitterede med samtlige seks hjerter med begrundelsen at de “Fire drenge rammer toppen med helt absurd cool klassikere.

Den Danske Strygekvartet optrådte i oktober måned i år iøvrigt med samtlige af Beethovens strygekvartetter over seks aftener.

Der er fem nominerede i hver af de 84 kategorier til Grammy-priserne, som bliver uddelt den 10. februar 2019 i Los Angeles.

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Overview

Two Danish names Grammy-Nominated

Lukas Graham was pipped at the post in 2017, but maybe 2019 year will yield Grammy gold
Christmas has come early for the Grammy-nominated string quartet (photo: Den Danske Strygekvartet/Facebook)

This year there are two names in the pot rubbing shoulders with the likes of Lady Gaga, Kendrick Lamar, Steve Gadd band and David Byrne – to name but a few – for the 2019 Grammy awards.

The two Danish entrants – conductor Thomas Dausgaard and Den Danske Strygekvartet (Danish string quartet) – have been nominated in the ‘Best Orchestral Performance’ and Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance’ categories respectively.

Den Danske Strygekvartet’s CD ‘Prism’ contains works written by Beethoven, Shostakovich and Bach and, according to Politiken’s music critic Thomas Michelsen, the group have “now worked their way up to a level where they are respected and recognised all over the world and get really good reviews, both in the US and other places.”

Bigging up Nielsen
Dausgaard’s recording consists of Carl Nielsen’s symphonies No 3 (Sinfonia Espansiva) and 4 (The Inextinguishable), and he made it conducting the Seattle Symphony Orchestra.

Of that, Michelsen says that “Carl Nielsen is big in Denmark but he is a little exotic abroad. Because of his Danish background, Dausgaard is a conductor who really knows Carl Nielsen and his music.”

The Grammy awards, which give out prizes in 84 categories, will take place in Los Angeles on 10 February 2019.

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Overview

Prism I (Danish Quartet)

Air from another planet: when the Danish String Quartet first encountered late Beethoven it felt to them (as they explain in the booklet) ‘as if it had fallen down from outer space onto our music stands’. This new release is an attempt to recapture that sense of strangeness, the idea being to use Beethoven as a ‘prism’ through which to revisit earlier and later music. Here, the Quartet Op 127 refracts a Bach fugue and Shostakovich’s Quartet No 15, with the tonality of E flat as the common element.

The effect, on listening straight through, is unexpected. The Bach serves as a brief prelude, and the Shostakovich follows with very little break. The DSQ’s pure, transparent playing immediately lifts the sense of static, oppressive fatality that can (some might say, should) hang over this work. It’s certainly not that the group’s playing lacks commitment: the strange, almost savage snarls that end their crescendos at the start of the second-movement Serenade are deeply unsettling. But there’s definitely a sense of movement, indeed song, in even the slowest music. The ending isn’t so much a fade into extinction as a question left hanging – to be answered by the opening chords of the Beethoven: jagged, assertive and destabilising.

It feels like a controlled discharge of accumulated emotional energy, and while the playing is exquisitely refined (listen to the sudden, luminous change in texture at 5’00” in the finale), this performance never loses its sense of rhythmic danger. These aren’t warm interpretations; they repel as readily as they attract. But they’re thought-provoking, and often startlingly beautiful. And anyway, perhaps one shouldn’t draw too close to this music. Didn’t Beethoven say ‘I’m speaking to my God’?

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Overview

Home listening: where Beethoven, Shostakovich and Bach meet

Sparkling new releases from the Danish String Quartet, the DSCH-Shostakovich Ensemble and James Rhodes

The Danish String Quartet, a spirited and individualistic bunch of Scandinavians (three Danes, one Norwegian) who also play folk, have mostly preferred albums based around ideas rather than single composers. Prism 1(ECM) is the first of a five-disc project with Beethoven’s late quartets at the heart, starting with Op 127 in E flat. Each disc will have a JS Bach fugue (here in E flat, from ThWell-Tempered Clavier, Book II) and a more recent quartet composition: Shostakovich’s last quartet, No 15 in E flat minor, Op 144. (Notice the pivot around E flat.) The whole approach invites active, committed listening, from the wistful introspection of the Shostakovich to the extended, dazzling complexities of the Beethoven. The group plays with virtuosity, intensity and tenderness. With notes by the quartet and writer Paul Griffiths, and photographs of manuscript pages from the works in question, this is a thoughtful entity.

 

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