REVIEW: Danish String Quartet

From the second the lights dimmed to the final vestiges of the post-encore standing ovation, the Danish String Quartet captivated the audience with a performance as passionate as it was technically proficient. The program was presented at Rackham Auditorium, a venue that seemed uniquely suited to the performance, being large enough to contain a nearly sold out crowd, but small enough to foster the sense of intimacy that is so important to chamber music. The program opened with Haydn’s String Quartet in C Major Op. 20, No. 2, a wonderfully lyrical example of classical chamber music that the quartet executed flawlessly.

The second piece presented was Hans Abrahamsen’s String Quartet No. 1 (“Ten Preludes”), a contemporary Danish work that offered a refreshing departure from the typical classical chamber fare. The piece was composed of ten short movements, each drastically different from each other—some smooth and lyrical, others almost dissonant and jarring—that somehow work together to form a uniquely cohesive whole. The second violinist of the quartet, Frederik Øland, introduced the piece as similar to “going to a restaurant where they serve you only ten small starters” yet somehow at the end, you “still feel satisfied”.  The departure from classical chamber music into something contemporary was satisfying indeed, made even more so by the beauty and diversity of the contemporary piece.

Chamber music is known for being challenging due to the both the lack of conductor and the transparency of the music. There is no opportunity to lean on one’s string section, every night, every performance, each member of the quartet must function as both a soloist and also a cohesive group member, shining and supporting in turn. The Danish String Quartet showed mastery of these skills Thursday night. The transitions between movements were timed flawlessly and the acoustic presence of the quartet was immense, proving once again that the value of chamber music is that the whole is greater than just the sum of its parts.

The quartet rounded out the program with a passionate rendition of Beethoven’s String Quartet in F Major, Op. 135. But the real highlight of the program came after the scheduled pieces were completed, when after receiving a well-deserved standing ovation, the four returned to the stage for an encore performance. The quartet played Shine You No More, a piece written by their very own first violinist, Rune Tonsgaard Sørensen. This lively quartet possibly outshone the rest of the program, with an upbeat tempo and melody evoking both folk music and the soaring tones of movie soundtracks. If you ever get the opportunity to see these four in concert, I highly recommend it, but at the least, visit them on Spotify and hear for yourself.

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