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Review: Danish String Quartet — Something Sweet from State of Denmark

The Danish String Quartet showcased a unique equality of technical prowess between its members during a recent performance sponsored by UCSB Arts & Lectures. Click to view larger
The Danish String Quartet showcased a unique equality of technical prowess between its members during a recent performance sponsored by UCSB Arts & Lectures. (Caroline Bittencourt photo)

How to describe the sound of the Danish String Quartet? Homogeneous comes immediately to mind.

Four characterful instrumentalists — Frederik Øland and Rune Tonsgaard Sørensen violins, Asbjørn Nørgaard viola, and Fredrik Schøyen Sjölin, cello — discarding selfhood, as all quartets must, to embrace temperamental and interpretive unanimity.

Of the hundreds of string quartets on the world stage today, this quartet in particular, enjoys a unique equality of technical prowess between its members. The result, a disarming parity, the four speaking as one beautifully nuanced, superbly blended voice. 

Returning to Santa Barbara as they have annually for several years under UCSB Arts & Lectures auspices, the personable Danes performed a mostly ordinary program of string quartets in extraordinary fashion at Campbell Hall late last month.

Haydn (No. 1), Mozart (No. 17), Brahms (No. 3) paired delightfully with clarinetist/composer Jörg Widmann’s String Quartet No. 3, a clever, delightfully witty, ingeniously colorful third, of five quartets the composer penned between 1997 and 2005. The evening’s imaginative musical and cerebral programmatic connection that tied them all together, the hunt!

The concert opened with Haydn’s String Quartet No. 1 in B-flat Major, Op. 1, No. 1 (La Chasse) from 1762-64. The first of 68 quartets, it is unique in form because of its five movements instead of the traditional four.

Composed when Haydn was already in his mature 30s, it stands as elegant testimony to his superb compositional refinement and taste. From the first bars, the Danish Quartet’s ensemble timbre was smooth as caramel, a transparency of sound and voicing of disarming equanimity that brought out every nuanced detail of Haydn’s genius.

Mozart’s String Quartet No. 17 in B-flat Major, K. 458 (Hunt) from 1784, created just a few years before his death in 1791, is from a happy time in the composer’s life. In B-flat Major as was the Haydn and later the Brahms quartet at the end of the program, The Danes turned in a performance of sweet perfection and impeccable style.

The Adagio for example, was a visual and sonic marvel of matched bowings, flawless intonation, and a hint of Schubert - Mozart ever ahead of his time.

Looking 100 years into the future from Haydn and Mozart, Brahms’ String Quartet No. 3 in B-flat Major, Op. 67 revealed on several levels, the composer’s empathy with his predecessors. The Danes performed this quartet from 1875 in the gentler manner of the Classical period.

Signal Brahms-isms, from complex moodiness to country dance tunes, were extraordinary in the Danes hands for the restraint and delicacy of their interpretation.

The evening’s kicker, Jörg Widmann’s wonderfully inventive String Quartet No. 3 (Hunt Quartet), composed in 2007, got the audience laughing out loud as a result of its descriptive shenanigans.

Sight gags — the Danes are marvelously loose with their bodies! — as well as a Pandora’s box of sound gags, including scratches, thuds, thumps, and rasps brought to life a panoply of exciting imaginings, from horses and riders flailing through thorny hedgerows, to the ultimate demise of some critter or other.

Who could have imagined a string quartet concert could be so much fun!

Noozhawk contributing writer Daniel Kepl can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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