Danish String Quartet presents sublime Schubert and Sørensen pairing
Rose Dodd, Bachtrack.com, September 20, 2021
In Amsterdam’s Muziekgebouw, the Danish String Quartet began its four-year Doppelgänger project, exploring Schubert’s string quintet and the last three quartets, each to be paired with a signal commission. The grouping of composers within this extended conversation underlines the seriousness of intent. Bent Sørensen, Lotta Wennäkoski, Anna Thorvaldsdottir and Thomas Adès’ new works will be framed by Schubert’s great string works, offering to each new work, a reflection of one to the other… and so, Doppelgänger.
This journey began with Doppelgänger – 1, pairing Schubert’s great final String Quartet no. 15 in G major, D887, with Sørensen’s Döppelganger, the programme aptly closing with an arrangement of Schubert’s song Der Doppelgänger from Schwanengesang.
Four chairs centre stage evoked similar expectancy to an orchestra tuning up, marking anticipation of an incoming artistic hustle. Warm applause greeted the quartet, after which viola player Asbjørn Nørgaard addressed the audience, chatting engagingly about their hopes for the project. Acknowledging the length of Schubert’s great G major quartet, famously epic until Morton Feldman’s six-hour long String Quartet no. 2 superseded it in 1983, the feeling of journeying into a long Nordic saga was evoked. Pleasantries over, the playing began.
Breezy Scandinavian air blew effortlessly through the Main Hall, the verve of this new project unfolding with conviction across the evening. The Allegro of Schubert’s substantive quartet oscillated between courtly melodies placed thoughtfully in opposition to more passionate phrasing in counterbalance. A sweetly graceful Andante followed, with the precision trio of violins and viola supporting the cello’s melodic line. Surety of phrasing by violinist Frederik Øland in the Scherzo marked the pace; in the Allegro,Øland’s grip on tempo, and timbral voicings were special, blending perfectly into a sumptuous whole.
Amsterdam audiences are sophisticated in their listening credentials and the concentration in the hall was rapt, held unswervingly – gently but firmly – in perfect string quartet form by four performers who are mature exponents in their jointly articulated language.
Bent Sørensen’s Döppelganger responded acutely to the commission, mirroring what he found in Schubert’s quartet. In his preamble, Nørgaard helpfully invoked the idea of Sørensen’s piece as sketching a “timeless room”, guiding the audience’s imagination in the specialised musical geography of Sørensen’s sonic vocabulary. Fictional detective Sherlock Holmes’ fancy, the mind palace, resplendent with many rooms, seems an appropriate way to encapsulate Sørensen’s myriad imaginings. Notions of what could be termed idiomatic string quartet language, in a variety of contrived, condensed string textures, played across fast motivic language in alternation. Lyrical, structured language playfully bounced across normative gestures of quartet repertoire, rising, falling and rushing around many newly created rooms.
Thrilling listening moved us through time as we turned familiar corners, feeling similar yet burnished with new coloration and impetus. Suddenly there was a dramatic grand pause – presenting a highly romanticised focal point, suspended in a chorale outside time. A pure room of beauty and ascendance, reminiscent of a surging 1940s soundtrack, was sustained for some time. The work was greeted with fervent applause and a shouted “Wow!”
After these two rich works were embedded in our memory, Schubert’s Der Doppelgänger provided a judiciously short conclusion, reuniting with sumptuous classical language, the concert’s structure felt completed.
Combining the old with the new, the Danish String Quartet have set sail on a joyous voyage. With a relaxed and easy demeanour, their communication is direct. Through this Doppelgänger project reconciliation between both languages may be eased. And certainly – wow! Sørensen’s work will surely assimilate into the classic repertoire. What a start to such an innovative and wide-ranging endeavour. Is it really that we must wait a whole entire year until the next episode?
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