Danish Quartet brings an introspective program to Mandel Hall

Sat Oct 29, 2016 at 1:18 pm

By Tyler Krause

The Danish String Quartet performed Friday night at Mandel Hall in the University of Chicago Presents series. Photo: Caroline Bittencourt
The Danish String Quartet performed music of Schubert and Shostakovich Friday night at Mandel Hall in the University of Chicago Presents series. Photo: Caroline Bittencourt

The University of Chicago Present series continued Friday evening with the Danish String Quartet returning with an introspective program consisting of Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 15 and Schubert’s C-Major Quintet.

Completed less than one year before the composer’s death, Shostakovich’s final quartet comprises six introspective movements (all marked Adagio). Their titles—Elegy, Serenade, Intermezzo, Nocturne, Funeral March, and Epilogue—are more comparable to a requiem than a work scored for four string instruments.

The first movement begins with an unhurried and dark fugue, whose wandering subject was set off exquisitely by second violinist Frederik Øland. Seated semicircle, the Danes relied less on visual cues and more on letting their ears do the work as they probed the dense contrapuntal depths of the movement.

The group advanced attacca into the Serenade, which was one of the evening’s memorable moments. Unlike many works with the similar style, this Seranade takes a vehement character; a sustained pitch rapidly shifts from ppp to sffff. The notes sliced through silence as they were passed among members of the group breaking the static appeal of the Elegy.

After a brief Intermezzo, the music segues into a contemplative Nocturne. With all instruments hushed, violist Asbjørn Nørgaard rendered a gorgeous solo, cast above his colleague’s dovetailed accompaniment. The final movement, Epilogue, ties the work together with its small motivic ideas, reiteration of the fugal subject, and harsh pizzicato, ending in a flurry of trills that die away into silence.

During its premiere, Shostakovich requested the first movement be played “so that flies drop dead in mid-air, and the audience starts leaving the hall from sheer boredom.” Indeed, the work is long and reflective, but the playing of the Danish musicians remained compelling and completely idiomatic, keeping audience members’ attention for all of its 35-minute duration.

Swedish cellist Torleif Thedéen proved a worthy addition, joining forces with the Danish Quartet for Schubert’s C-Major Quintet. Despite moments of shaky intonation in the first movement, the ensemble rendered Schubert’s lyricism with refined reverence. The second movement Adagio opened like a benediction with Rune Sørensen’s honeyed violin melody hovering above Thedéen’s gentle pizzicato.

In the Scherzo, the ensemble brought sonic force to the symphonic horn calls and Schubertain serenity to the grave trio. The dotted rhythms of the galloping Allegretto finale were infectious; the cynical coda whipped off with elegant charm.

After the warm applause, tall five players returned to deliver an arrangement of Carl Nielsen’s song “Underlige aftenlufte.” The euphonious melody from the Dane’s homeland sent patrons out into the night and capped off a memorable evening in Hyde Park.

The University of Chicago Presents series continues with violinist Isabelle Faust and pianist Alexander Melnikov performing Beethoven violin sonatas 7:30 p.m. November 11 in Mandel Hall. chicagopresents.uchicago.edu

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