Rued Langgaard: String Quartets Vol. 1
01 May 2012
International Record Review
The rediscovery of Rued Langgaard has been among the more stimulating if also infuriating experiences of the CD era. Having released all the symphonies, as well as a decent selection of his orchestral and instrumental music, Dacapo now turns to the string quartets; or rather, returns to them - its catalogue already having a fine set of the composer's then known output for the medium from the Kontra Quartet. Langgaard research having meanwhile advanced means his contribution now extends to some ten works, to be recorded over two volumes.
Chronological consistency was not a prerequisite for Langgaard. Earliest of these works is Variations on Oh, Sacred Head! Now Wounded from 1914, a new introduction replacing the lost original in the 1940 revision. Despite its seven variations moving well away from the theme, the work is typical of his pre-First World War music in combining Classical counterpoint and mid-Romantic harmony in a context of eloquent introspection. By the time of his Second Quartet (1918), Langgaard had embarked on his most exploratory phase and was to write four quartet works in just over a year: originally Composition for Four Stringed Instruments, this unfolds from a combative sonata movement Storm Clouds Receding, via an arrestingly mechanistic scherzo Train Passing By and evocative slow movement Landscape in Twilight with its vigorous interruptions by a solo fiddler, to a finale The Walk in which martial and chorale elements are abruptly juxtaposed on the way to an impassioned ending. As a statement of intent by a composer still in his mid-twenties , it is an often impressive work .
Despite its numbering, the Sixth Quartet (1919) was not Langgaard's last, being one of three works under the heading Rosengaard Play whose inspiration came from a formative vacation several years earlier. Its single movement unfolds as a series of subtle related episodes in which two Swedish folk songs are prominent, the mood intensifying from alternately wistful and capricious recollection to one of gently sustained eloquence. By contrast, the Third Quartet (1924) was not the product of sustained soul-searching written in just a week for a controversial performance that led to its publication and occasional revival (the Copenhagen Quartet made the pioneering recording in 1972 and a raw-edged account by the Miro Quartet appeared 12 years ago). The climax of his progressive phase, it embodies the discontinuities and contradictions that were Langgaard's undoing: here , however, they are deployed in a work whose three movements - explosive allegro, compressed scherzo and finale in which anguish is overcome by fervour - imply an experience greater than its 15 minutes suggest.
That it makes the impact it does here is owing to the Nightingale Quartet, whose individual and collective virtuosity is always at the service of Langgaard's vision. The more objective readings by the Kontra Quartet are not necessarily surpassed, yet the greater emotional charge of the present ensemble frequently tells in its favour, as does the appreciably more detailed and spacious sound. Comprehensive notes from Bendt Viinholt Nielsen further enhance a disc that confirms the significance of the composer's quartet legacy. Volume 2 is keenly awaited, and hopefully the Nightingale will be able to tour at least some of these works before long.