A String Quartet with a Light Touch

United StatesUnited States  Bartók, Scandinavian folk music, and Nielsen: Danish Quartet, Perelman Theater, Kimmel Center, Philadelphia, 5.2.2015 (BJ)

Bartók: String Quartet No. 1, Op. 7
Anon.: Scandinavian folk music, arr. Danish Quartet
Nielsen: String Quartet No. 4 in F major, Op. 44


Both in sound and in personality, the Danish Quartet brought a refreshing lightness to this Philadelphia Chamber Music Society concert.

This group provides a telling contrast to ensembles that score by virtue of their weighty and richly saturated sonority. In its place, these young Danes—violinists Rune Tonsgaard Sørensen and Frederik Øland, violist Asbjørn Nørgaard, and cellist Fredrik Schøyen Sjölin—produce a shimmeringly light and transparent sound, and produce it with a technical mastery that is highly impressive. It is a sound naturally appropriate to the music of their great compatriot Carl Nielsen, who differs radically from his harmony-focused Finnish contemporary Sibelius in the prime element of counterpoint that characterizes his music.

The evening opened with the first of Bartók’s six quartets, which received a glistening and radiant performance that made it, too, seem like a much more contrapuntal score than it usually sounds. Nielsen’s last and delightfully relaxed essay in the genre was played with an equally effective interplay of lines, all four performers contributing with equal skill and conviction, and yet with clearly contrasting musical personas, to the total effect.

Before intermission, the four offered what were apparently their own arrangements of a variety of folk tunes from Denmark, Sweden, and Norway. Their versions were blessedly free from the static quality that too often affects folk-song arrangements. This was all airy, colorful, and irrepressibly forward-moving music, played with appropriate zest and still with that lightness of touch that seems to be the core of the Danish Quartet’s musical personality.

And nothing could have been more agreeable than the unpretentious spoken introductions that the players offered before each piece. The audience members, and I among them, found ourselves charmed by a degree of sheer fun not usually associated with the eminently serious world of the string quartet. Copies of the group’s folk-based CD Wood Work were accordingly selling like hot cakes during intermission.

Bernard Jacobson

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