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Danish String Quartet shows off the power of folk music

What is it about folk music? Some neuroscientists believe humans sang before we spoke. For an 18th-century philosopher such as Johann Herder, folk song contained the very essence of a people. Folk song and dance constitute a vital ingredient of that high point of culture of the Viennese Classical School. Haydn, Beethoven and Schubert are permeated with the polyglot folk traditions that surrounded them in the Habsburg lands. In the 20th century, for Béla Bartók, himself an avid folk song collector, similarities between types of folk music signaled the brotherhood of all people

The Danish String Quartet played a concert Monday night that eloquently demonstrated the power of folk music. Its members, violinists Frederik Oland and Rune Tonsgaard Sorensen, violist Asbjorn Norgaard and cellist Fredrik Schoyen Sjölin, could have emerged from Central Casting for a remake of “The Vikings.” But make no mistake, each is a master musician. Together, they play with a cohesion, finesse and precision second to none. Having built a solid reputation in the standard quartet repertory, recently they’ve turned their attention to Nordic folk music. The enthusiastic and vocal audience that packed the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue seemed glad they have.

The program, announced from the stage, included a number of the songs from the quartet’s past two albums, “Wood Works” and “Last Leaf.” There were arrangements of music collected in the 18th century by an itinerant Swedish fiddler; a piece that may have been sung a thousand years ago by Norwegians on the Shetland Islands; and traditional Danish tunes from particular corners of that tiny nation. Every last note, whether evoking open fields, dense forests, mighty fjords, the deep sea or the flight of birds, was played with a freshness, immediacy and love that gripped the heart and wouldn’t let go.

Washington Performing Arts has scored another bull’s eye.

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