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Dacapo - The National Music Anthology of Denmark

Format:  SACD

Catalogue Number:  6.220577

Barcode:  747313157761

Release month:  Sep 2014

Period:  Early 20th Century


Langgaard: String Quartets 1 & 5

15 December 2014  Crocks Newsletter
Bob McQuiston

This third volume concludes Dacapo's hybrid, exploration of Danish composer Rued Langgaard's (1893-1952) complete works for string quartet. The recordings of the first quartet and Italienian Scherzo are world premieres. The composer constantly tinkered with his creations to the point where themes and occasionally whole movements appear in more than one work. Consequently the ordering of his six numbered quartets is misleading to say the least.

Rued's earliest effort in the genre came in 1914-5, and was in four-movements. But he soon put the opening two aside, and eventually scrapped the others, having borrowed from them for what he'd call his fourth (1931) and fifth (1925-38) quartets. Then compounding the confusion even further, in 1936 he revised the initial movements, and rewrote the others from memory, giving us what he'd refer to as his first quartet. This opens our disc, and with such a disparate genesis, brings to mind another Swedish one we told you about last time, Kurt Atterberg's (1887-1974) second (1909-37).

The opening andante begins with a winsome folksy melody (WF) [00:00] that's manipulated, and followed by a short sighing motif (SS) [03:04]. The two are intricately developed [03:28], after which there's a recap of WF [04:38]. The movement then ends graciously with a final whiff of SS [08:07].

The scherzo [T-2] is an engaging whimsy with alternating fast and slow passages, the latter having reminders of SS [01:32, 03:43, 06:25]. Then there's a contrasting dark "Grave" [T-3] with a mesmerizing monotony typical of Langgaard's later works. It's based on a mournful recurring theme [00:01] slashed with four snappy surges [01:54, 04:26, 06:56, 09:09], and ends in a quiet optimistic passage [10:56].

The finale [T-4] begins with a "sostenuto" [00:00-01:31] that's the same as the one opening the last movement of the Fourth "Sommerdage" ("Summer Day") Quartet (1914-31, see 12 March 2014). A lovely SS-related theme with the simplicity of a hymn tune (SH) follows [01:33], and then a flighty mercurial ditty (FM) [03:56]. The two are alternately developed in rondo fashion, and the work ends joyfully with an FM-based coda [09:07].

The composer frequently gave his works colorful titles, and the fifth quartet (1925, revised 1926-38) was at one time called "Fjerne Melodier" ("Faraway Melodies"). This he later changed to "Glemsels-Stemninger" ("Moods of Forgetfulness"), which was finally dropped.

In four movements it represents the composer's disdain for all the avant-gardism surrounding him back then, and is a throwback to classical-romantic times. It has all the melodic inventiveness of Grieg (1843-1907) and a structural integrity commensurate with Brahms (1833-1897).

The first andante [T-5], which is in sonata form, starts with a gorgeous romantic melody (GR) [00:00]. This is followed by an anxious fidgety motif [01:56] and GR-related, wistful searching idea [02:23]. All these are the subjects of a consummate development [04:11], where there's a dramatic buildup and release of tension. It's succeeded by a recap [07:46] that fades into two forte chords that end the movement with a "So there!"

The curt scherzo [T-6] is a change of pace having cheerful dance-like outer sections surrounding a troubled episode [01:02-02:31]. Then the mood turns devotional in the moving "Lento misterioso", which is next (T-7).

As for the last movement [T-8], you'll get a feeling of déjà entendu with the melody that soon appears [00:26]. It's SH from the finale of the first quartet (see above), and will dominate this reworking of that earlier movement. This time around the composer gives us a sonata-rondo, which ends the quartet very much in the romantic tradition.

In 1950 Rued penned what he called an Italian Scherzo [T-9]. His last contribution to the string quartet medium, he wrote on the score "Can't be bothered composing the remaining parts, perhaps to no avail!" Quite adventurous with chromatic leaps and bounds, at only two-minutes it's a tantalizing teaser for what might have been his most progressive quartet yet. Maybe he'd become more accepting of the modernist trends then in full swing on the Continent.

The Nightingale Quartet is again in residence for Danacord's final installment of Langgaard's works for string quartet. As before their playing is not only technically accomplished, but reveals a great understanding and sensitivity for his music. It's easy to understand why they won Gramophone Magazine's 2014 "Young Artist of the Year Award" for these stunning interpretations of works by one of Denmark's most autonomous composers.

Recorded between January and September 2013, this volume was made by the identical production staff and at the same location, the Royal Danish Academy of Music Concert Hall, Copenhagen, as the previous two. Once again the stereo tracks consistently project a generous soundstage with the instruments ideally placed and captured in nourishing reverberant surroundings.

The instrumental tone is pleasing in all three play modes, but like Stenhammar's (1871-1927) quartets, Langgaard's have occasional steely-sounding spots on the CD track. However, both SACD ones project a softer sonic image, and the multichannel mode puts you in a center orchestra seat a few rows back from the performers. It also imparts an increased sense of ambient space around each of the instruments, adding clarity to the composer's more structurally dense passages.

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