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Thomas ADÈS (b. 1971)
Arcadiana (1994) [19:14]
Per NØRGÅRD (b. 1932)
Quartetto Breve/String Quartet No. 1 (1952) [7:15]
Hans ABRAHAMSEN (b. 1952)
10 Preludes/String Quartet No. 1 (1973) [20:27]
Danish String Quartet (Rune Tonsgaard Sørensen, Frederik Øland (violins), Asbjørn Nørgaard (viola), Fredrik Sjölin (cello))
rec. May 2015, Reitstadel Neumarkt in der Opferplatz
ECM NEW SERIES 2453 [46:55]

This is the award-winning Danish String Quartet’s first recording for ECM and is an intriguing one, taking on a triptych of works by Danish and British composers all written when they were just into their 20s.

Thomas Adès’s Arcadiana comes to represent this youthful aspect of these works in Paul Griffiths’ booklet essay, “our own Arcadians, our direct ancestors who knew how to sing” being the connection between the past whether ancient or recent. Adès’s work is a slippery customer, teasing our ears with little references to past styles, quoting directly or indirectly or challenging us with gestures that seem to express wit and charm but never cheapen the seriousness or intensity of the music in general. We hear moments from a Schubert song, or a reference to The Magic Flute, but the journey is a distinct and personal one. The penultimate movement of the seven, O Albion, is a beautiful and expressively eloquent moment of reflection in an atmosphere through which the spirit of Mahler is allowed to peek.

Per Nørgård’s Quartetto Breve comes from a time in which Sibelius was still a living presence, and avant-garde modernism had yet to permeate the Danish music scene. Nørgård’s teacher was Vagn Holmboe, and there are echoes of the master’s transparent tonalities and sparing textures in the student’s first string quartet, combined with the models of Bartók in the more gritty Allegro risoluto second of two movements.

Nørgård was to become teacher to Hans Abrahamsen, whose 10 Preludes open with a rush of high tones and a promise of tensile intensity, but which also soon brings in elements of almost naïve simplicity and the influence of American minimalism without becoming ‘minimalist’ as such. Ostinato patterns serve as material for development or as accompaniment to the working out of moire primary ideas, and though while few of these movements provide an ‘easy ride’ their explorations of accessible motifs always offer a fascinating journey into intellect and imagination.

The Danish String Quartet already has an extensive history of musical collaboration amongst its members, and has received wide acclaim for its concert performances, recordings of Nielsen and others. This ECM recording is very much up to the label’s fine standards, meeting the impeccable technique and finely honed musicianship of the quartet. Short playing time may be an issue for some, but for modern and enjoyably demanding quartet repertoire this is an excellent place to visit.

Dominy Clements



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