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Friday, December 7, 2012

Haydn-Brahms String Quartets, Danish String Quartet

Having noted other day in this space that since Beethoven's late quartets, the string quartet has often become the preferred medium for composers to extend their musical language to the limits of their imagination, I now listen to a new recording of the Danish String Quartet doing Haydn and Brahms (BR Klassik 8553264) and reflect a little on that thought. What was most certainly true of Bartok and Carter wasn't especially the case with Haydn and perhaps not Brahms either. Not that either's quartets aren't first-rate examples of the art. But the composers perhaps didn't view the configuration as a privileged place to communicate their most advanced ideas. They engaged with the form for some of the finest examples nonetheless. It's just that they didn't tend to be "heavy" about it. That's my impression.

In the case of the Haydn Quartet in D No. 63 op 64 No 5, a part of the Danish Quartet's release, it is music of sheer delight (so to speak) with allusions and commentaries on Viennese dance forms and popular music. It goes out of its way not to be serious, yet in the process produces a balanced work that is in no way "light." It is not ponderous either. But it is Haydn at his infectious best.

The Brahms String Quartet in A minor op. 52 No. 2 is a good pairing with the Haydn, because it too is high spirited without being unsubstantial.

The Danish String Quartet does a terrific job with these quartets. The group has achieved the considerable ability to vary the timbre of each of the instruments in cases where they wish to articulate clearly the importance and multi-voiced distinction of several parts--it's especially heard in the Haydn but it is true of the Brahms as well. Then they of course can properly and melifluously blend as one in passages that call for that. The point is that the quartet has an great sense of structure that comes through as extraordinarily articulated performances.

Their sound is ravishing and well recorded. And the music has a beautiful sense of proportion and definition. These are near-benchmark performances, uplifting to hear, and highly recommended of course.

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