C.F.E. Horneman & Asger Hamerik: Strygekvartetter
01 July 2013
Here’s an interesting disc of Danish string quartets from around the year 1860. They don’t really sound ethnically Danish, imprinted as they are by German teachers. C.F.E. Horneman, composer of almost all this music, wrote his first of two quartets while a student in Leipzig, and the other one a year after returning home.
The Horneman quartets bear fingerprints of Mendelssohn, Beethoven and maybe Grieg. The second quartet, especially, feels like a traditional Germanic quartet sped up to a refreshing pace and filled with quick, memorable little melodic ideas. The pieces are compact in structure and aim to divert rather than to be profound. The only real dead spot in either is the slow movement of the first, which I found a little dry and blandly German. Horneman did study at Mendelssohn’s music academy, even training with violinist Ferdinand David, who premiered the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto.
Horneman had a cousin, Asger Hamerik, who became a rather more distinctive composer during his maturity, and seems to have already been a more distinctive one at the age of sixteen. Hamerik spent several decades heading up one of the first and foremost music schools in the United States, Baltimore’s Peabody Institute. Famous alumni, including the preparatory school for youth: Philip Glass, Hilary Hahn, André Watts. Hamerik’s little Quartetto, a teenage piece that lasts just six minutes, begins with a striking idea and gets a lot of work done in its tiny frame, although the more lyrical secondary material is second-rate and the loudest moments return a jarring amount of reverb in the sound-space.
The Arild Quartet, making their debut here, sound like very good players, whom Dacapo should be glad to have on the team. Aside from the aforementioned reverb, there is little to complain about from the sound, and the booklet essay on Horneman and Hamerik is a model for the industry. The playing time is 53 minutes, but these two composers didn’t oblige us with more quartets, after all. A pity, especially, that Hamerik did not return to the medium in his maturity.