Rued Langgaard: String Quartets Vol. 1
13 May 2012
Gramophone - GRAMOPHONE CHOICE JUNE 2012
Danish quartet's debut disc kicks off new Langgaard cycle
The majority of Langgaard's 10 string quartets (only six of which are numbered) are concentrated in his twenties and early thirties, which is to say the time of what many of his admirers, myself included, would consider his finest works: Symphonies Nos 4 to 6, the opera Antikrist and Music of the Spheres. Even so, and despite the fact that I had long ago heard the Kontra Quartet's performances both live and in their first recorded incarnation on RCA LPs, the impact of the Second and Third Quartets came as a shock - not far short of a first encounter with, say, the Janacek quartets.
That's partly because they're so packed with incident. With its strenuous, conflictual rhythms and flighty inventiveness, No 2 (1918) sets the bar high; and No 3 (1924) displays a concentrated blend of eruptive combativeness and whimsical extravagance that is if anything even more impressive. True, the 'Sixth' Quartet (the numbering is chaotic and anything but chronological) and the Variations are less distinctive, but they are never less than resourceful and their relaxed tone is welcome as a respite from the high metabolic rate of the main works on the disc.
Then there is the contribution of the Nightingale Quartet. This young Danish Ensemble throws itself into the music with a vehemence and sense of purpose that go far beyond the pioneering venture of the Kontras. By the clock the Nightingales may be a little slower but they bring such impetus and fire to bear that you would hardly guess. They are also far better recorded, in a warmer, more spacious acoustic, and the booklet essay, by Bendt Viinholt Nielsen, doyen of Langgaard scholars, is top-notch. So Dacapo's re-recording of these works is more than welcome; and to call the second volume 'eagerly anticipated' would be a massive understatement.