Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger:

Vagn HOLMBOE (1909-1966)
String Quartet no. 16, opus 146
String Quartet no. 18, 'Giornata', opus 153
Svaerm, opus 190b
Quartetto Sereno. Opus 197 (edited Per Norgård)

Kontra Quartet
Rec December 1999-January 2000, The Radio House, Copenhagen
DACAPO 8.224131 (71.03)
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String Quartets no. 17. 'Mattinata', opus 152
String Quartet no. 19, 'Serata', opus 156
String Quartet no. 20, 'Notturno', opus 160

Kontra Quartet
Rec June - September 2000, The Radio House, Copenhagen
DACAPO 8.224128 (71.03)
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Vagn Holmboe is the true successor of Carl Nielsen in Danish music. A particularly fine symphonist, he also created a notable body of chamber music, and the string quartet held a special fascination for him. This is evident enough from the basic information about the music on these discs, confirming that Holmboe left no fewer than twenty quartets, more than Shostakovich, for example.

What of the quality of the music, however. It is thoughtfully and strongly constructed, every note seeming in its rightful place. Nor is it dull, since the balances between activity and repose, inwardness and exuberance, are so naturally and effectively judged. The music sounds nothing if not fluent.

The Kontra Quartet are excellent advocates, and they complete their Holmboe survey in this pair of discs, including the unfinished Quartetto Sereno which was completed (or at least put into a performing edition) by another major composer, Per Norgård.

The final group of quartets shares a common theme: the times of day from morning to evening. Three of these pieces date from 1982, the other (Notturno - Night) from three years later. With the exception of the performance of No. 16 these are all first recordings; and very fine they are too. And the quality of the sound impresses immediately, for it is strong, resonant and truthful, allowing details to be heard without loss of atmosphere.

The members of the Kontra Quartet are specialists in the field, and their dedication is felt at every stage. But Holmboe's music communicates directly. It is not esoteric, even if it is carefully and logically argued, always concerned with more than mere entertainment. Everything feels in its rightful place, and in chamber music that is an ideal to cherish.

Terry Barfoot

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