Dacapo Records continues its mission to raise awareness of the music of Danish composers, with the Young Danish String Quartet's set of Carl Nielsen's string quartets. The first volume, from 2007, combined the first and fourth of the numbered quartets with the string quintet, for which the YDSQ was joined on second viola by their teacher and mentor, Tim Frederiksen, first violinist of the (Old) Danish String Quartet. The second volume brings together the remaining two of Nielsen's numbered quartets, no. 2 in F minor and no. 3 in E-flat major, both composed in the 1890s. These are certainly not the only recordings of the Danish composer's string quartets, but it is the first time they have made their way into my ears.
Nielsen, String Quartets, Vol 2, Young Danish String Quartet
(released May 27, 2008)
The good news is that they make for good listening, especially when played with the kind of vigor and attention to color and dynamic range as in these performances. The E-flat quartet (no. 3, op. 14) has a particularly striking, somber second movement, which incorporates some daring dissonance and adventurous harmonic progressions. Nielsen later recounted the story of how he lost his first version of this quartet, while he helped a driver who was struggling to get one of his horses up from where it had fallen in the mud. The composer, riding his bike to take the score to the music copyist, left his manuscript with a boy standing by, who ran off with it. If that score is still out there somewhere, it would be very interesting to compare it with the final version of the quartet heard here, which Nielsen had to reconstruct from memory and his sketches.
One could probably pass off the F minor quartet (no. 2, op. 5) as a Brahms quartet, which depending on your inclinations could be a good or a bad thing. The similarity is not surprising as Nielsen composed most of the work while on a government travel grant in Germany in his 20s. The hemiola patterns in the first movement, for example, are somewhat if not exactly Brahmsian, and there is a similar tendency toward deeper registers. Its second movement is also noteworthy for its gloomy beauty, and the outer movements pulsate with a restlessly Romantic agitation. The quartets are not far enough along in Nielsen's compositional development to rank with his more daring orchestral scores, for example, but they have remarkable appeal. The sound of this disc, captured in the Danish Radio Concert Hall last summer, is warm and mellow.
New York Times (Anthony Tommasini)