October 27, 2016
The supremely polished Danish String Quartet made its San Antonio debut with a landmark work of the 20th century, a fascinating piece fromthe present year, and a set of arrangements of Nordic folk songs of uncertain vintage. The concert, Oct. 23 in Temple Beth-El, opened the 74th season of the San Antonio Chamber Music Society.
The uncommonly integrated sound of the Danish may be explained in part by the fact that three of its members — violinists Frederik Øland and Rune Tonsgaard Sørensen and violist Asbjørn Nørgaard – have been friends from childhood and studied together at the Royal Academy of Music in Copenhagen. Cellist Fredrik Schøyen Sjölin, a Norwegian, joined the three Danes in 2008.
The concert’s major work was Dmitri Shostakovich’s final string quartet, No. 15 in E-flat minor, composed in 1974, less than a year before the composer’s death. It’s a generally dark, ruminative work comprising six adagio movements played without pause. The skies are not uniformly overcast: There are occasional wistful sunbreaks, and bouts of anguish in slashing, single-note crescendos. The players produced an exceptionally beautiful sound, on the whole, but did not shrink from violence when the composer demanded it. Mr. Sørensen’s gleaming high notes and Mr. Nørgaard’s luscious viola sound, more forward and burnished than the norm for that instrument, contributed much to the richness of the blend and the balanced chordings. Intonation was impeccable from all, and one could not ask for greater teamwork.
The concert opened with Norwegian composer Rolf Wallin’s Swans Kissing. The Danish String Quartet gave the world premiere last summer at the Edinburgh International Festival. Inspired by one of Swedish Expressionist painter Hilma af Klint’s series of swan paintings from 1913-15, the music reflects the descending-ascending, yin-yang character of the painting with a split structure — in the first half, dense dissonant chords slowly push upward, often urged by sliding notes; the second half’s descent is more rhythmically active and contrapuntal. It’s a lovely, provocative piece, and its atmosphere proved an excellent front porch to the Shostakovich that followed.
After intermission, the quartet played its own arrangements of folk songs and dances from Denmark and its neighbors. There arrangements added layers of complexity and development to the traditional tunes, but too often the results sounded like stylistic imitations of composers from the classical canon.
Three Danes, one Norwegian, all polish
Danish String Quartet
Danish String Quartet in Temple Beth-El: Violinist Frederik Øland speaks to the audience, while colleagues Rune Tonsgaard Sørensen (violin), Asbjørn Nørgaard (viola) and Fredrik Schøyen Sjölin (cello) prepare to perform.
Hilma af Klint’s ‘The Swan, No. 17.’ Click for a link to the Danish String Quartet’s world-premiere performance of Rolf Wallin’s Swans Kissing, inspired by the painting.