Langgaard: String Quartets 1 & 5
01 December 2014
Gramophone’s conferment of Young Artists of the Year on the Nightingale Quartet is no less than these four intrepid artists deserve. Their Langgaard cycle is bringing this maverick composer the kind of broader recognition he always deserved, and their playing on this final volume lives up to the sky-high standards they have led us to expect.
In his booklet essay, Tim Frederiksen, who has mentored the Nightingales throughout the process, characterises the first CD as mainly dramatic and the second as predominantly poetic and idyllic, while the third embraces both aspects and thereby makes a fitting conclusion. Both quartets recorded here fit that description (the Italian Scherzo is a chip from the workbench, though an engaging one).
The First – all 37 minutes of it – is the more deceptive, in a way that anyone already attuned to Langgaard will relish. The leisurely first movement manages to behave itself but the scherzo evidently has trouble keeping the lid on, and imaginative transgression bursts through on the last page (I wondered at this point if Langgaard may have known Borodin’s First Quartet). The long slow movement returns to sobriety for the most part but becomes seriously disruptive in the late stages, while the finale moves from initial entrancement to an energised robusto coda.
The Fifth Quartet is altogether milder. It starts with a respectful nod to Grieg and continues with a mainly reflective, leisurely first movement. Still, like the British weather, if you don’t like it, all you have to do is wait a bit. The finale is especially changeable; and even though this work might not be the one to choose to induct a friend to Langgaard, it has a winning charm that doesn’t pale on repetition. Beautifully judged recording quality and authoritative essays complement the performances ideally.