Danish String Quartet at UCSB
Charles Donelan, Santa Barbara Independent, March 18, 2019
Clearly in a jocund mood after Tuesday’s program of Nordic folk songs, the Danish String Quartet arrived at Campbell Hall on Wednesday, February 14, poised to enter fully into the music of two of their greatest national composers, Hans Abrahamsen and Carl Nielsen. The group, which consists of Frederik Øland, violin, Rune Tonsgaard Sørensen, violin, Asbjørn Nørgaard, viola, and Fredrik Schøyen Sjölin, cello, has risen to the top of the classical charts with a pair of exciting, innovative recordings of original arrangements of folk music while still managing to wow audiences and critics alike with their programs and recordings within the traditional classical repertoire.
The opening piece, the String Quartet No. 25 in C Major, Op. 20, No. 2 of Joseph Haydn, allowed the players to revel in the kind of carnivalesque moments that Haydn so often smuggles in to the classical forms of which he is considered to be the great visionary father. It also effectively anticipated the wandering moods and modes of the following work, Hans Abrahamsen’s String Quartet No. 1, “Ten Preludes.” Anchored by segments clearly designed to establish the composer’s neo-classical bona fides, the piece was at its best when it strayed furthest from tradition. A long, driving raga-like movement oscillated in the mind like the tolling of some strange bell.
The third quartet of Denmark’s most revered musician, Carl Nielsen, felt like coming home when the musicians returned to the stage after intermission. Subtle displays of virtuosity, like the brilliant solo for viola that ended the Andante second movement, floated free from the moving surface of the work’s complex harmonies only to be submerged again by organ-like chords. After this stunning example of unparalleled connection between a group and a composer, all that was left for the DSQ to do was to send us home with a Nielsen holiday song: a little bit of Christmas in February. After this stunning example of unparalleled connection between a group and a composer, all that was left for the DSQ to do was to send us home with a Nielsen holiday song; a little bit of Christmas in February.
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