Ahh, the string quartet. Or, the String Quartet. It’s a beast that’s both medium (two violins, viola, cello) and genre (less quantifiable, but trust me, every composer knows what it is), inspiring and intimidating in equal measure. Most composers, regardless of outlook or style, feel a need to confront the beast, even when that confrontation ends with escape.
The intriguing program offered on Adès/Nørgård/Abrahamsen, by the Danish String Quartet (get it from Amazon), addresses the importance of the medium and the genre in works by three prominent European composers of three different generations. The pieces were all written when their respective composers (Englishman Thomas Adès and Danish composers Per Nørgård and Hans Abrahamsen) were around 20 years old. Each piece looks forward into its composer’s future, while at the same time looking back into a collective past.
Adès’ Arcadiana—the newest piece, from 1994—probes the nature of song in a variety of styles and languages. Nørgård’s Quartetto Breve, from 1952, is concerned, as detailed in Paul Griffiths’ program notes, with intervals and their contexts. Abrahamsen’s 10 Preludes, written in 1973, when he was Nørgård’s student, deftly combines the “algorithms” of serialism and minimalism in a very personal way. The results in all three cases are idiosyncratic, and yet wholly within the broader String Quartet tradition.
Watch the quartet perform Arcadiana at Lincoln Center:
The Danish String Quartet, composed of violinists Rune Tonsgaard Sørensen and Frederik Øland, violist Asbjørn Nørgaard, and cellist Frederik Sjölin, gives authoritative and sensitive performances of all three works. ECM’s sound has a great deal of warmth and presence, as always. This disc is easy to recommend to fans of the composers, and aficionados of the string quartet itself.