> Rued Langgaard - String Quartets [RB]: Classical CD Reviews- Oct 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Rued LANGGAARD (1893-1952)
String Quartets

String Quartet No. 2 (1918 rev 1931)
String Quartet No. 6 in one movement on a Swedish folk tune (1918-19)
String Quartet No. 3 (1924)
String Quartet No. 5 (1925 rev 1936-38)
String Quartet No. 4 Summer Days (1918 rev 1931)
Variations Mig hjerteligt nu længes (1914, Introduction, 1931)
The Kontra Quartet
rec 1984, Copenhagen, Denmark, DDD
DACAPO DCCD 9302a/b [2CDs: 51.39+57.28]


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Langgaard wrote eight string quartets during the period 1914-1925 (between the composer's twenty-first and thirty-third years). Four date from 1918. He revised all the quartets except No. 3. All the quartets are here, with two exceptions. No. 1, the materials for which were recycled into Numbers 4 and 5, is omitted; also omitted is an unnumbered quartet from 1918.

This set was originally issued on LP by RCA and promptly disappeared from view as was the fate of several recordings issued on the obsolescent carrier in its last gasp years.

The Second Quartet is in four movements each with a title: Storm Clouds Receding; Train Passing By (unmistakable); Landscape in Twilight and The Walk. Perhaps he would have been better advised to avoid such titles; they tempt facile pictorialism. The quartet is vivid, brimming with life and originality from the sort of vigour you find in Nielsen's Four Temperaments to the expressionism of Zemlinsky. The Sixth Quartet is a tamer affair, not short on rustic sentimentality, rather Haydnesque, a divertissement nostalgic for village dances and an immersion in nostalgia. The 1924 Quartet (No. 3) originally bore the title Inferna. This is much the toughest of the works here and the tempo markings give clues as to the mood: snervatezza (enervating), quasi stracciamento (torn to pieces), rapinoso (raucously). Prokofiev and Bartók are the waymarkers for much of the time especially in the first movement. The crystal-small second movement refers back to the classically poised minuets of Mozart but fuses this mood with the malicious and the macabre.

The Fifth Quartet is in four movements. Once again the work had titles (Far Away Tunes; Moods of Oblivion) at several stages in its life. These were discarded by the composer. The first title gives a better idea of what to expect. This is Langgaard on a contented sabbatical around the quartets of Mozart and Schubert - basking in the classical sunshine. The poignant and heart-warming Fourth has similar preoccupations leavened by rustic voices already encountered in the Sixth Quartet. The Variations on O Sacred Head! Now wounded lasts about a quarter of an hour with the seven variations written in 1914 and the Introduction being from 1931, a year in which Langgaard was busy revising his string quartets. The whole work is classically shaped and inclined.

Well written and planned notes are included. These are by Knud Ketting and Langgaard world authority, Bendt Viinholt Nielsen. I have plagiarised these for the current review.

The two CDs are presented in a mono-width case.

It is typical of the unselfishness of many of the Scandinavian companies that the rear insert lists Langgaard discs from other companies: Chandos and Danish EMI. Can anyone provide me with a copy of EMI's CD recording (749 6642) of Langgaard's Antikrist and Sixth Symphony performed by the Copenhagen Philharmonic with Ole Schmidt?

This is Langgaard predominantly in the persona of the defiant classicist in which shape you might never guess that these works post-dated the Great War. He shatters the peace in the second and third quartets.

Rob Barnett

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