Danish String Quartet
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String Quartets and String Trio
"From this point on each instrumentalist takes her or his chair during the prescribed pauses and keeps moving it step-by-step and very quietly (if possible, so that this escapes the listener's attention) toward one of the corners of the stage, so that at the end (the fifth step) the instrumentalists are situated at the four corners of the stage." Thus a prescription by Sofia Gubaidulina for the interpreters of her String Quartet No. 1 of 1971. The violoncellist is the first to reach the final position, and the second violinist is the second. The first violinist and the violist are the last, and their movement is coordinated. Each instrumentalist plays the last six pages of the score for herself or himself alone. After countless meters in quick alternation there are no more bars to indicate separate measures, no more "rendezvous sites": the ensemble is no longer a unit.
Sofia Gubaidulina was born in Chistopol, a town in the Tatar Republic, in 1931 and studied in Kazan and then at the Moscow Conservatory. At the conservatory she did not forget her origins, and even amid her intense occupation with ethnic musical culture she preserved her avant-gardist independence and thus met with opposition from the authorities. Dimitri Shostakovich sympathized with her cause, and it was largely through Gidon Kremer's support that her works obtained a hearing on the other side of the Iron Curtain. The composer herself was able to travel to the West for the first time in 1986 in order to attend the Lockenhaus Chamber Music Festival.
Numerous compositions by Sofia Gubaidulina have extramusical points of reference, alluding more or less clearly to religious, mystical, or philosophical content. In other words, this is no music for purists. She called her violin concerto "Offertorium," and an accordion piece is entitled "De Profundis." Her oeuvre also includes a cantata based on ancient Egyptian poems, several settings of works by the Russian lyric poet Marina Svetayeva, and a musical drama concerning Christopher Columbus. It is thus that we see that there are many sides to her oeuvre. The compositions for string quartet and string trio recorded on this compact disc have the appearance of absolute music. In the score there is nothing that would point to extramusical content. Then do we have autopsychograms, depictions of complex character traits and circumstances? We have major precedents for introspective, expressive string quartet music which transcend by far Joseph Haydn's diverting "Gott erhalte Franz, den Kaiser": Beethoven's last quartets, Janacek's Intimate Letters, Nono's Fragmente - Stille, an Diotima, and the backgrounds and chasms to be fathomed in and between four notation systems seem to be immeasurably vast.
Sofia Gubaidulina aimed at a musical representation of "connection" and "separation" in her String Quartet No. 1. Her written commentary points to a period of composition accompanied by conflict. The score is less revealing. "Espressivo" occurs here and there under the notes. More indirectly, emotion is brought into play through "vibrato amid a steadily expanding tonal range," glissandi of fading volume, heavy accents or furious figuration, and highly effective inserts of silence. The music is characterized by lability and restlessness. It alternates between ecstasy and retraction, reserve and emphasis, and aggression and retreat. Traditional elements such as cantilenas and trills seem to be fractured, reinterpreted, and have an irritating effect. An old-fashioned violoncello litany seems lost, out of place, as a voice from the past, and the mood at the end is desolate.
Sofia Gubaidulina composed her String Quartet No. 2 as a commissioned work for the Sibelius Quartet for performance at the Kuhmo Chamber Music Festival in 1987, when her fortunes had taken a decisive turn. In the commentary she refers to sounds of "musical symbolism" as an expression of experiences in the distinction between ordinary and essential lifetime. In its overall aspect the music now seems to be more concentrated. Expression is set free and condensed through a reduction of material and duration: the symbol for "rubato" and the designations "espressivo" and "vibrato" occur with extremely great frequency in the score text. At the same time, many flageolets and glissandi as well as de-soundings of manifold types also create the impression of emotional shattering, skepticism, and hesitant trust over against the expressive power of tones and sounds. Here intensity comes about through approximation to the ineffable.
"As a composer I am above all interested in distinctions: whether a tone is produced by touching the strings with the fingers (senza arco, con le dita) or by pizzicato, whether both hands are involved in this process or only the left hand, whether the strings come into contact wit the finger-board as a result of the pizzicato, whether the left hand is involved in the pizzicato or this effect is produced only by the right hand without pressing of the strings," What sounds like a statement by an IRCAM technician is actually an excerpt from Sofia Gubaidulina's commentary for her String Quartet No. 3 of 1987. The music is different: it is exciting not only because of its manifold pizzicato colorations and the phantomlike flageolets unobtrusively charging the atmosphere with vibrations but also because of the explicit fluctuations of movement in the form of quintuplets, sextuplets, and septuplets. The very late appearance of bowed tones amounts to a special event after all the forceful and tender pizzicato eruptions and the reinforcement of the lines in late-romantic idiom. Sofia Gubaidulina does not want to ensconce herself here. In this work at least, she does not aspire to pleasant retrogressions. The undertone remains detached, and the end fades away into fragility.
Three instruments - three characters: it is thus that our composer wants her String Trio of 1988 to be understood. She has the violin, viola, and violoncello engage in the three parts of the work: at first all three instruments communicatively, then the violin and violoncello over against the viola, and finally all three instruments individually. Striking elements in the compact, dense, and vividly contrasting sequence of sound actions include not only numerous rubato, pizzicato, and vibrato passages but also bounding col legno figuration and popular rhapsodical elements. Despite their clear traditional references, the latter do not mean that the music lapses into retrospective. Questions are raised and shadows are cast through turbidites of sound, overlays, and abrupt discontinuities. Here we have an emphatic communication of the fact that the time for musical exuberance has passed. A sensitive as well as undaunted composer comes into view from behind the three characters she conjures up.
-Vera Lumpe (translated by Susan Marie Praeder)
The Danish Quartet
In recent years no new initiative in Danish musical life has been met with such comprehensive enthusiasm as The Danish Quartet. Critics and audiences have been unanimous in stressing that with The Danish Quartet music becomes an experience, and it has received superb reviews ever since its unique debuts in Copenhagen and London (Wigmore Hall) in the spring of 1987.
The present Danish Quartet, which is the third generation to bear this illustrious name, was formed in 1985 by four of Copenhagen's most talented string instrumen-talits, all of whom occupy prominent positions in Danish music. The four musicians are: Tim Frederiksen, the leader and principal violinist in The Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra; Arne Balk-Moller, principal violinist in The Royal Orchestra; Claus Myrup, principal violist in The Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra; and Hendrik Brendstrup, cellist in The Royal Orchestra and member of The Chamber Orchestra of Europe.
The Danish Quartet has made a name for itself with its interpretations of the great classical repertoire. The ensemble has sought guidance and inspiration from several members of the great time-honored quartets, including Knud Frederiksen (The Danish Quartet), Josef Kodusek (The Vlach Quartet) and The Amadeus Quartet.
In its execution of works from the 20th century The Danish Quartet has shown its supreme command of other aspects of quartet music as well. Its repertoire ranges widely: from Ravel to Gubaidulina, and from the Danish greats Nielsen and Langgaard to Norholm and Abrahamsen. In Denmark The Danish Quartet gives several concerts each year, for societies, at festivals, and radio and television. Similarly, the quartet has now established itself internationally with engagements throughout Scandinavia, Germany, England and France (the French Radio).