Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

"Music, both vocall and instrumental, so good, so delectable, so rare, so admirable, so super excellent, that it did even ravish and stupifie all those strangers that never heard the like." - Thomas Coryat, after hearing 3 hours of music at the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice, 1608.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Character, charm and deep emotion

From February 3, 2015:

The Nightingale String Quartet bring their survey of the Rued Langgaard’s string quartets to a triumphant conclusion in this third volume from Dacapo. Langgaard’s career didn’t go smoothly, as he was completely out of synch with the musical trends of the 20th century. He was born too late, certainly, though I wonder if things would have gone well for him as a musician 50 years earlier. He sounds like a prickly sort of fellow, and completely uncompromising when it came to his musical vision. His brush with modernism is barely evident in the 1st quartet of 1914. The craggy bits are, I think, more connected to his crusty personality than any avant-garde tendencies. This first attempt at a full-scale chamber music work has an angry sadness, an expression perhaps of the emotions that accompanied his unsuccessful first love affair. In a fit of self-criticism Langgaard dismantled the work, discarding the last two movements and reusing the best bits of the rest in his fourth and fifth quartets, written in the mid-1920s. Later, though, he had second thoughts and put the work back together (from memory in the case of the 3rd and 4th movements). Perhaps this is why the music sounds so self-assured.

In the fifth quartet of 1926 Langgaard really turns back the clock to a Classical-Romantic idiom. The danger here is a kind of flabby nostalgia. I’m reminded of a CBC reviewer calling an Amadeus String Quartet recording of Sir Ernest MacMillan “kitsch Mendelssohn.” In this case, though, Langgaard polished up the work during the rest of the 20s, right through until 1938, when he felt it good enough to release into a very uncongenial environment. The music comes through the neo-Romantic tunnel full of character, charm and deep emotion.

Dacapo Records is on a roll lately; I’ve loved more than a few of their recent releases, especially the Danish String Quartet’s Wood Works, the New York Philharmonic’s Nielsen series, and now the Langgaard String Quartets. This is a label to watch!

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