The Danish String Quartet — Image via danishquartet.com

The Danish String Quartet

Nielsen, Olesen & Folk Song Arrangements
Music in the Park Series

The repertoire of The Danish String Quartet includes music from all over the world, but for their concert on Sunday in Saint Paul’s Music in the Park series, they chose to keep things close to home with a program of works by Danish composers Carl Nielsen and Thomas Agerfeldt Olesen, as well as their own settings of Danish, Norwegian, Swedish and Faroese folk songs. As it turned out, though, geographic origin was just about all the pieces on the program had in common — that and the committed and idiomatic performances they received from this talented quartet.

The program began with Nielsen’s String Quartet No. 4, the only quartet Denmark’s most famous composer wrote after fully developing his characteristic style. Without an orchestra at his disposal, Nielsen sounds different — gentler and more classically poised — than he does in his more familiar symphonies, but his signatures are still there, if sometimes below the surface. The DSQ deftly handled the piece’s off-kilter rhythms and tonal excursions, turning in a particularly engaging rendition of the finale.

Next came contemporary composer Olesen’s String Quartet No. 7, written for the DSQ, which premiered it just a few weeks ago in Denmark. Titled “The Extinguishable” in an ironic nod to Nielsen’s popular Symphony No. 4, “The Inextinguishable,” Olesen’s piece proved fairly bleak overall, but not monotonously so. The most interesting part was the first section, in which the cello’s insistent repetition of a few notes was the backdrop for a flurry of pseudo-melodies that eventually built to an enthralling wall of sound. This was followed by a long section in which fragments of familiar-sounding music were rendered with a sort of twisted, glissando-heavy nostalgia. Eventually, elements of the first section reappeared in this new guise before the piece ended with a bit of music-box melody. The players executed what was obviously some very difficult music with precision while subtly drawing out the piece’s changes of mood.

After the intermission, the atmosphere lightened considerably with the quartet’s folk song arrangements from their recently released album, Wood Works. The pieces ranged from touching wedding songs to zestful dances, and what was particularly impressive about the quartet members’ settings was the way in which they retained the folk character and individual flavors of the originals while taking full advantage of the technical skill and sophistication of a classically trained string quartet.

Between Nielsen’s quirky classicism, Olesen’s thorny metamusical musings, and the varied and accessible folk pieces, there was something for everyone on the DSQ’s program, and they undoubtedly earned themselves some new fans.

Photo by Caroline Bittencourt

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Eric Prindle

administers Bad Entertainment. He is also an attorney who leads a team of legal marketing copywriters at FindLaw. He is not Eric Prindle, the mixed martial arts fighter.