Novo Quartet shines in Mozart, Haydn and Bartók in Stevns Klint on the Danish coast

DenmarkDenmark Scandinavian Cello School – SCS Next Generation: Novo Quartet (Kaya Kato Møller, Nikolai Vasili Nedergaard [violins], Daniel Śledziński [viola], Signe Ebstrup Bitsch [cello]). Stevns Klint Experience, Stevns Klint, 24.6.2023. (LV)

The Novo Quartet at Stevns Klint on the Danish coast © Mille Norvik

Mozart – Divertimento in D major, K.136
Haydn – String Quartet in C major, Op.20 No.2
Bartók – String Quartet No.4

The Novo Quartet was founded in Copenhagen in 2018 by violinists Kaya Kato Møller and Nikolai Vasili Nedergaard and cellist Signe Ebstrup Bitsch, who had been fast friends since school years, and violist Daniel Śledziński from Poland. On Saturday night at a UNESCO World Heritage site on the windswept Danish coast, the Quartet showed why they are rising fast on the international competition circuit.

They launched Mozart’s Divertimento in D major with a sweet, nuanced clarity as Møller used a variety of elegant bowing choices to transform the simple string symphony into a miniature concerto, integrating most of her portamento into wonderfully spun-out lyrical lines. The pizzicato dialogue between the viola and cello leading back to the recapitulation was mesmerizing in its jewel-like purity. In the Andante, the sound of the violins against Bitsch’s light blonde cello sound suggested the sensuous waves of Così fan tutte to come. The Quartet took the Presto just a heartbeat too fast – the perfect tempo, in other words – and captured Mozart’s scrumptious energy and desire to please. Nedergaard was superb in his sixteenth notes before Møller took them home, charging at the end.

Just as Haydn’s Op.20 Quartets were beginning to explore the outer frontiers of the genre, including the addition of prominent solo roles for the cello, the Novo were exploring all sorts of fascinating musical narratives for Op.20 No.2 in C major. Bitsch gracefully laid out her opening solo with quicksilver fluid triplets, setting the tone for a performance infused with youthful energy and occasional hints of gossamer beauty. Møller again used a variety of bowings and flashing moments of virtuosity to create momentum and led her colleagues on a merry chase in Haydn’s quaint chirping dialogues – and all this before the first movement’s double bar. After the cello rose like Venus on the half shell out of the unison recitative in C minor that opens the second movement, the Quartet let the wonders of Haydn’s imagination take over. The sudden sunlight in the central section was breathtaking in its simplicity, and Møller played her short cadenza as if it were being improvised. Their segue into the Minuetto was disarmingly casual, and the fugal finale was refreshingly lighthearted.

At intermission one of the members of the audience smiled at me and said, ‘They were top’. It turned out that the Quartet’s Bartók would be even more top. They tore into the opening Allegro with ferocious energy; forged the episodic, epigrammatic nature of the music into something resembling flow; and encouraged the music to get into stride. Their incisive and knowing Prestissimo buzzed with delicious energy, their insane glissandi were intoxicating. In the Allegretto pizzicato they played a Haydnesque joke on the audience, fooling them into thinking the movement was over with a just-too-long pause before playing the final few bars. By the end of the finale, they were inhabiting Bartók’s world as naturally as they had those of Mozart and Haydn – and they had taken the audience with them.

Called back for an encore, the Quartet played the traditional midsummer hymn for the Feast of St. John, ‘Vi elsker vort land’ (‘We love our land’), by Peter Erasmus Lange-Müller, and some in the audience sang softly along.

Laurence Vittes

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