Arts concert review

An invigorating and stunning performance of strings

The Danish String Quartet performs Beethoven and Schnittke

8060 534a5722 photo roberttorres
The Danish String Quartet performs at NEC’s Jordan Hall.
Photo credit: Roberto Torres

Danish String Quartet
Presented by the Celebrity Series of Boston
NEC’s Jordan Hall
Jan. 28, 2017

BEETHOVEN: String Quartet, Op. 18, No. 4
SCHNITTKE: String Quartet No. 3
BEETHOVEN: String Quartet, Op. 130, with original finale Grosse fuge, Op. 133

The Danish String Quartet has drawn critical praise for its performances since its 2002 debut at the Copenhagen Summer Festival. Its four members — violinists Rune Tonsgaard Sørensen and Frederik Øland, violist Asbjørn Nørgaard, and cellist Fredrik Schøyen Sjölin — are renowned for their wonderful balance in their performances, a difficult feat to pull off. I confess that I am indifferent to string quartets, but the Saturday evening performance warmed me up to the sound and timbre of strings.

Beethoven’s String Quartet in C Minor, Op. 18, No. 4, opens the evening with four parts. Their interpretation of the exposition is solemn and tense: the notes waver in hesitation before erupting into a dramatic finish. Rather than overdramatizing the performance, the Danish String Quartet chose a mellower touch. Their interpretation remains balanced and expressive, and the elegant chemistry between the instruments seems effortless, an aspect carried through the concert.

Moving towards the modern era, Alfred Schnittkes’ Quartet No. 3 draws us away from the more classical harmonies of Beethoven yet never quite leaving. A polystylistic work, the quartet contains experimental and dissonant passages, drawing inspiration from traditional and contemporary compositions. It draws inspiration from Beethoven and Shostakovich, borrowing certain passages in tribute to these past composers. During more dramatic moments, the quartet holds a mesmerizing yet foreboding tone before shifting to a more delicate touch when playing an elegant pizzicato. Such a compelling and fervorous interpretation of the piece made for a standout performance on Saturday evening.

The quartet's musical arrangement was likely a very conscious decision, as Schnittke’s String Quartet No. 3 contains hints of Beethoven woven into the melody in repeating motifs. The Danish String Quartet’s attention to detail is indicative of the enjoyment and passion they have for their work. These instrumentalists bring their own interpretations of classical quartets into the 21st century. In this way, the Danish String Quartet builds upon a long-standing musical tradition of drawing inspiration from the past. I eagerly await their future forays into the world of classical music.