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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
rec. Danish Radio Concert Hall, Copenhagen, June/August 2007
DACAPO 6.220522 [63:59]
Experience Classicsonline

Comparisons:
Danish Quartet/Kontrapunkt 32150/51 (rec. 1993)
Kontra Quartet/BIS 503/504 (rec. 1990)
Kubin Quartet/Centaur 2325 (rec. 1996 - Op. 5 only)
Oslo Quartet/Naxos 8.553907; 8.553908 (rec. 1997/98)
Vertavo Quartet/Simax 1128 (rec. 1995 - Op. 5 only)
Zapolski Quartet/Chandos CHAN 9635; CHAN 9817 (rec. 1996/99)
 
With Volume 2, The Young Danish String Quartet completes its excellent traversal of the four Carl Nielsen String Quartets.
 
These are early Nielsen 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 much harmonic adventure and delicious moments of key ambiguity as he searches for a home key such as in the opening bars of the Quartet in E flat major's second Movement Andante sostenuto. Another impressive feature of the string quartets is the abundance of emotional content ranging from the fierce and rugged first theme of the F minor Quartet to the sublime and gorgeous lyricism of the first movement of the E flat major. My interpretive preferences for Nielsen's string quartets tend toward forward-looking performances of a rustic nature that neither stint on the composer's rugged terrain nor on his more tender and heart-felt declarations.
 
Although the string quartets are not among Nielsen's 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 very interesting and romantic in style, but I should caution that this 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 Nielsen's harmonic experimentation, are rather cosmopolitan and are recorded in an overly reverberant acoustic. This "wet" sound-stage is damaging to the composer's counterpoint and to fugal passages such as the two fugues of the fourth movement of the Quartet in E flat major.
 
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 members of the group 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 tenderness and expression in the slower movements and passages. Further, they never stint on Nielsen's romantic foundations nor on his presentation of daring harmonic progressions.
 
Among the numerous highlights of the performances, a few features stand out. In the Quartet in F minor, The group treats the opening theme as an apocalyptic event, the second movement brings an irresistible blend of romanticism and harmonic adventure while the third is performed in a playful, energetic and bold fashion. Concerning the Quartet in E flat major, the Young Danish String Quartet offers the maximum degree of mystery to the second movement's core which is dominated by dotted rhythms. The third movement's central episode is played in a wild and intense manner. The fugal elements of the fourth movement are beautifully detailed and compelling in their conversational progression.
 
In addition to the exceptional performances, this quartet has a significant aural advantage over all alternative versions. The SACD sound, fantastic in its expansiveness, depth and clarity, results in an illumination of each musical strand. As fine as the acoustics are for most of the comparison versions, they simply cannot match a superbly engineered SACD recording.
 
Given the high quality of these performances and the superlative Dacapo sound, this traversal of the Nielsen string quartets is now the most desirable on the market. If price considerations are paramount, the set by the Oslo Quartet on Naxos is an excellent alternative.
 
Don Satz
 

 


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