on 5 February 2013
Now that Danish composer Rued Langgaard's (1893-1952) 16 symphonies are well served on disc we are slowly starting to see recordings of his other music emerge on to the market, with the string quartets being the latest to appear. The quartets have not fared as well as the symphonies when it comes to recordings, they were recorded in the late 1980's by the Kontra Quartet for RCA on LP, and these were transferred to CD on the Dacapo/Marco Polo label but I can't remember them being available in the UK. Hopefully this new recording, the first in a complete cycle, will win a new audience for the works.
Langgaard composed six numbered quartets as well as a number of other works for the medium, including a further un-numbered quartet. Here we are presented with three of the quartets, Nos. 2, 3 and 6, along with the Variations on "Mig Hjertelig Nu Længes". The second quartet which, like many of the composer's works, was reworked at a later date is the most substantial work on the disc lasting just over 25 minutes. It has four contrasting movements, all of which are descriptive i, Storm Clouds Receding, ii, Train Passing By with the chugging of the engine in the bass and the whistle in the high strings, iii, Landscape in Twilight, and iv, The Walk. The music is quite evocative of the titles, you can certainly imagine all that you are supposed to. The third quartet again has descriptive titles for its three movements, although this time they are about the human condition rather than experiences, i, Rapacious, ii, Artful and iii, Scoffing, in my opinion these titles add little to the music. The sixth quartet, which due to revisions was actually the first of the numbered quartets to be completed, is in one movement, although within it there are a number of contrasting sections and changes of tempo, Langgaard even employs a Swedish folk tune in the work. The final work is a set of seven variations on the chorale `O sacred Head! Now wounded', originally composed by Hans Leo Hassler (1564-1612), this is an interesting, if less original work. The strongest music, and the more typical of the composers compositional style, is to be found in the second and third quartets, it is tuneful, although I doubt that many will end up whistling them, and strong music, which although at times it can sound aggressive, the `train' for example, it is also very approachable.
The Nightingale Quartet are an excellent young all female quartet, which was only founded in 2007 from former students of the Royal Danish Academy of Music in Copenhagen. Their performance is exceptional, there are some really difficult passages in this music yet their ensemble playing is exemplary, the ideal advocates for Langgaard's music, with playing like this more converts to the cause of the composer should be won! A most recommendable disc and I look forward with anticipation for volume two of this cycle!