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CLASSICAL  April 2009

CLASSICAL April 2009

Subject:

Nielsen's String Quartets

From:

Don Satz <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Moderated Classical Music List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Thu, 16 Apr 2009 12:03:06 -0700

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (92 lines)

Carl Nielsen (1865-1931)
String Quartets, Volume 2

String Quartet No. 2 in F minor, Op. 5 (1890) [34:17]
String Quartet No. 3 in E flat major, Op. 14 (1898) [29:42]
The Young Danish String Quartet
Recorded Danish Radio Concert Hall, Copenhagen, June/August 2007
Released May 2008
Dacapo (Hybrid Multi-Channel SACD) 6.220522 [63:59]

Comparisons:
Danish Quartet/Kontrapunkt (rec. 1993)
Kontra Quartet/BIS (rec. 1990)
Kubin Quartet/Centaur (rec. 1996 - Op. 5 only)
Oslo Quartet/Naxos (rec. 1997/98)
Vertavo Quartet/Simax (rec. 1995 - Op. 5 only)
Zapolski Quartet/Chandos (rec. 1996/99)

With Volume 2, The Young Danish String Quartet completes its excellent
traversal of the four numbered Carl Nielsen string quartets.  These are
early Nielsen works except for the Quartet No.  4 in F major composed
in 1919.  Still, we find in this music a bridge between the traditions
of the Romantic era and the early 20th Century aesthetic.  Nielsen graces
us with an abundance of harmonic adventure and delicious moments of key
ambiguity as he searches for a home key such as in the opening bars of
the E flat major Quartet's 2nd Movement "Andante Sostenuto".  Another
impressive feature of the String Quartets is the wide array of emotional
content ranging from the fierce and rugged first theme of the F minor
Quartet to the E flat major Quartet's sublime and gorgeous lyricism of
the 1st Movement.  My interpretive preferences for these works tend
toward forward-looking performances of a rustic nature that that neither
stint on the composer's rugged terrains nor his more tender and heart-felt
declarations.

Although Nielsen's String Quartets are not among his more popular works,
they are very strongly represented on record.  Each of the comparison
versions are worthy contenders with the Danish, Kubin, Oslo and Vertavo
Quartets heading the list.  The Zapolski Quartet's interpretations are
quite interesting and romantic, although I should caution that the group
takes many liberties with the scores.  Concerning the highly praised
recordings by the Kontra Quartet, I have a few reservations: the
performances minimize the effect of the music's harmonic experimentation,
are rather cosmopolitan and recorded in an overly reverberant acoustical
setting.  This "wet" sound stage is damaging to the composer's counterpoint
fugal passages such as the two fugues of the E flat major Quartet's 4th
Movement.

The Young Danish String Quartet was formed in 2001 when each member was
under 18 years of age.  The group studied under Professor Tim Frederiksen
at the Royal Danish Academy of Music and was the youngest ensemble to
win the DR Chamber Music Competition.  It has subsequently won many other
prestigious competitions and has concertized in Germany, Holland,
Scandinavia and the United States.

Although only young adults, the group members show a remarkable affinity
for the Nielsen idiom, entirely up to the highest standards achieved by
the comparison recordings.  Their youthful exuberance is second to none
while they also convey the full measure of poignancy and expression in
the slower movements and passages.  Further, they are compelling in their
blending of the composer's romantic foundations with his daring harmonic
progressions.

Among the numerous highlights of the performances, a few features stand
out in my mind.  In the Quartet in F minor, the group treats the opening
theme as an apocalyptic event, and the 3rd Movement is irresistible with
its playful and boldly projected phrasing.  Concerning the Quartet in E
flat major, the ensemble offers the maximum degree of mystery to the 2nd
Movement's central section dominated by dotted rhythms, the 3rd Movement's
central section is played in a wild and intense manner and the fugal
elements of the 4th Movement are beautifully detailed and infectious.

In addition to the exceptional performances, The Young Danish String
Quartet has a sonic advantage over the competition.  In glorious SACD
sound, the acoustics are fantastic in expansiveness, depth and clarity,
resulting in an illumination of each musical strand.  As fine as the
sound stage is for most of the comparison versions, they simply can't
match a superbly engineered SACD recording.

Don's Conclusions: Given the high quality of performances and superlative
sound offered by Dacapo, The Young Danish String Quartet's traversal of
the Nielsen String Quartets is now the most desirable on the market.
For those on a tight budget, the set by the Oslo Quartet on Naxos
represents a fine alternative.

Don Satz
[log in to unmask]

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