Rued Langgaard: String Quartets Vol. 1
11 April 2012
Classics Today (10/10)
These are remarkable works. Rued Langgaard was, as we now know, basically nuts. He composed nine string quartets, more or less, because some of them share movements (or revisions of movements). Most date from his early period, the late 1910s and early 1920s, before he turned bitter and was forced to endure the neglect of the Danish musical establishment. They feature a reckless variety of material and encompass a vast expressive range. For example, the titles of the Second Quartet's four movements are: Storm Clouds Receding; Train Passing By; Landscape in Twilight; and The Walk. The Third Quartet has three movements variously headed Rapacious; Artful (sound sample below); and Scoffing. Some might feel the music simply falls apart into a series of disconnected episodes. Maybe it does, but it is consistently entertaining, expressive, and curiously moving.
The performances here are marvelous, make no mistake. The Nightingale String Quartet relishes every bizarre nuance, from the chugging locomotive in the Second Quartet to the Agitato orribilmente and Burlesco rustico sections of the single-movement Sixth Quartet. But the playing never turns crude, and never indulges Langgaard's wackier ideas at the expense of solid musical values. As if that weren't enough, the program concludes with a mostly solemn series of variations on the hymn-tune Oh, Sacred Head, Now Wounded. Keeping this generally slow music moving purposefully forward is no mean feat, but these players manage it effortlessly. The sonics are warm, well balanced, and strikingly realistic. Langgaard was unquestionably a "character", but he knew what he was doing. So do these players, and so does Dacapo in standing by him. Try this.