“…an exceptional quartet, whatever repertory they play."
Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times
The Danish String Quartet, one of the most widely-acclaimed chamber groups of the present moment, makes its first recording for ECM, with a programme of Danish and British music. The pieces featured here, all written when the respective composers were each barely into their 20s, have retained a freshness and intensity vividly conveyed in the Danish String Quartet’s energetic and assured interpretations.
Per Nørgård’s Quartetto Breve (1952), Hans Abrahamsen’s 10 Preludes (1973), and Thomas Adès’s Arcadiana (composed 1994), represent first forays, for each of the composers, into the world of the string quartet. The Nørgård quartet appears to reflect the influence of Bartók, as well as the lean tonality of Nørgård’s teacher, Vagn Holmboe. Nørgård would become an influential teacher in his own right, and Hans Abrahamsen, one of his most talented pupils, was inspired by the minimalism which the older composer had drawn into his music. In his 10 Preludes, Abrahamsen gives to his pulse patterns a modal colour deriving from folk song, a musical resource with which the Danish String Quartet can readily identify.
“We may feel,” writes Paul Griffiths in the liner notes, “that the precision of nuance, the warm and intelligent closeness of voices and the command of form these musicians bring to Abrahamsen as to Nørgård comes from some common heritage or sympathy, and yet the same fine qualities shine through their performance of the Adès piece, Arcadiana. They even have very effective ideas of their own here, such as the expressive tremulation they bring to the ensemble glissando early in the middle movement.” Adès’s Arcadiana is a kaleidoscopic fantasy in which “metres are prone to slip and slide, chords to mutate in meaning, disintegrate or dissolve, all within a scintillant harmonic world that, though partly shared with traditional forces, is the composer’s own.”
The release of the album, produced by Manfred Eicher, at Neumarkt’s Reitstadel in May 2015, is timely. The featured composers have been much in the news this season, as recipients of three of classical music’s most coveted awards. In Autumn 2015 Thomas Adès (who was recently named Artistic Partner with the Boston Symphony Orchestra) was awarded the Léonie Sonning Music Prize in Copenhagen. Hans Abrahamsen was subsequently declared winner of the Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition, and Per Nørgård presented with the 2016 Ernst von Siemens Prize, in recognition of his lifelong contribution to music.
The Danish String Quartet has the unusual distinction of being a group of young musicians with an extensive history of musical collaboration. Its three Danish-born members, Rune Tonsgaard Sørensen, Frederik Øland and Asbjørn Nørgaard first played chamber music together in a music summer camp before they were even teenagers, and then continued to do so throughout the school year of their own volition. In 2001 Tim Frederiksen of The Royal Academy of Music in Copenhagen, who had been the leader of Den Danske Strygekvartet became the quartet’s mentor and main teacher. “All of a sudden, at the ages of 15 and 16, we were a serious string quartet. It all happened so fast that none of us seemed to notice the transition. We were enrolled at The Royal Academy of Music and our life as music students had begun. None of us have any memory of our lives without the string quartet.” In 2006 they made their first recordings - of Carl Nielsen’s quartets - as the Young Danish String Quartet, immediately attracting the attention of publications from Gramophone to the New York Times. In 2008, Norwegian cellist Fredrik Schøyen Sjölin joined the quartet, and the group has since gone from strength to strength, with a concert programme embracing core classical repertoire and contemporary music and highlighting Scandinavian composers, as well as folk music, which they also play with verve and commitment.
Hailed by Robert Battey in the Washington Post as " one of the best quartets before the public today”, the Danish String Quartet has won many awards. In 2009 the quartet not only took First Prize in the Eleventh London International String Quartet Competition, but was awarded four additional prizes: the 20th Century Prize, the Beethoven Prize, the Sidney Griller Award and the Menton Festival Prize. The Danish String Quartet also received the Carl Nielsen Prize Denmark’s largest cultural award in 2011.
Their first ECM album is issued as the quartet is appearing at the Savannah Music Festival in Georgia. In July they play the Tanglewood Music Festival, in August the La Jolla Summer Music Festival in California. For a full list of dates and further information, visit the quartet’s web site: www.danishquartet.com