Rued Langgaard: String Quartets Vol. 2
01 April 2014
Gramophone CHOICE April 2014
Richard WhitehouseThe Nightingale Quartet’s first volume of Rued Langgaard
brought to attention a quartet output which, though not unknown, was largely unrecognized in its scope and depth. This second instalment focuses of works with direct (though varying) links to the summer the then 20-year-old composer spent at the Rosengården house in the southern Swedish village of Kyrkhult, marking his first amorous encounter and the last occasion that he holidayed with both parents.
Such experiences are embodied in two of the three quartets he completed in 1918, especially Rose Garden Play, whose four movements are far from formally orthodox. The Nightingale duly underline this with a perceptive take on the alternate joy and pensiveness of the ‘Interior’ first movement, the deft intercutting of verve and grace in the scherzo-like ‘Mozart’, the mood of sustained melancholy in the ‘Drop Fall’ slow movement that is among Langgaard’s most affecting utterances, and the renewed resolve – albeit tempered by passing doubt – of ‘Rococo’ finale. Heard just twice before and only now receiving its first recording, this is a highly impressive reading of a work anticipating Janácek’s quartets in sheer emotional acuity.
The A flat Quartet is music of greater poise and restraint, qualities that the members of the Randers Chamber Orchestra emphasize a little too readily in its only previous outing on disc. By comparison, the Nightingale more forcefully bring out the opening Allegro’s bracing and never supine classicism, as also, the scherzo’s incisive contrapuntal interplay. The Lento is appreciably swifter, its pizzicato episodes given greater rhythmic flexibility within the plaintive rather than funereal context of the movement overall, thereby putting greatest emphasis on the finale, with its central span of aching remembrance placing the surrounding decisiveness in greater relief. A winning account of a work whose standing outside the numbered series can only have hindered its progress: indeed, a whole-scale renumbering of the eight full-length quartets is not merely feasible but also desirable.
The Fourth Quartet is actually the last in the sequence, created in 1931 by placing revised versions of Rose Garden Play’s outer movements on either side of the recomposed scherzo from the First Quartet (to be included on Vol 3). The result only stresses the music’s emotional retrospection, as do the Nightingale when compared to the Kontra Quartet’s more overtly extrovert approach – whether in the opening movement’s now more easeful progress, the scherzo’s whimsical unfolding or the finale’s more potent uncovering of its material’s essential fatalism – suitably reinforced by a yearning slow introduction which returns transformed in the conclusive yet regretful coda. Interesting that Langgaard chose the Summer Days subtitle in 1950, having earlier opted for Lacrimetta or ‘Little Tear’ – as if looking back two decades had brought had brought home the promise that might have been.
The quartet is heard to advantage in the detailed yet spacious Concert Hall of the Royal Danish Academy of Music, while Bendt Viinholt Nielsen’s notes are highly informative. One can only look forward to the final release in this important and worthwhile series.