NIELSEN, C.: String Quartets, Vol. 2 (Oslo Quartet) (Naxos: 8.553908)
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String Quartets Volume2
String Quartet in Fminor, Op. 5; String Quartet in G minor, Op. 13
The Danish composer Carl Nielsen was born in 1865, the son of a painterand village musician in whose band he had his earliest musical experienceplaying the violin. In 1879, after learning to play the cornet, he joined amilitary orchestra at Odense and by 1884 had been able, with the help ofsponsors, to enter the Royal Danish Conservatory in Copenhagen as a student ofthe violin, piano and music theory. After graduation in 1886 his compositionsbegan to win a hearing, with a significant success in 1888 for his LittleSuite, scored for strings. The following year he became a violinist in theroyal chapel, broadening still further his musical experience and in particularhis knowledge of the music of Wagner, a subject of serious study for him inGermany in 1890. It was here that he began the first of his six symphonies,completed in 1892. The previous year had brought a visit to Paris and a meetingwith the sculptress Anne Marie Brodersen, whom he married, travelling togetherwith her to Italy, before the couple returned to Denmark in the summer.
Nielsen's work as a violinist in the royal chapel continued until 1905,when jealousies eased him out of his position. Now, however, there was agrowing demand for his services as a conductor, particularly of his own works,and in 1908 he succeeded Johan Svendsen as conductor at the Royal Theatre, aposition he held until 1914. His growing international reputation, particularlythrough his symphonies, led to invitations to conduct abroad, while at home hetook a leading part in the musical life of Denmark, teaching at the CopenhagenConservatory and later joining the governing body of that institution andserving the cause of national musical education. He died in 1931.
The leading Danish composer of his generation, Nielsen left, in additionto his six remarkable symphonies, two operas, concertos for violin and forclarinet and a number of other orchestral compositions. To choral works andsongs may be added a wind quintet, which enjoys continued popularity, threeviolin sonatas, a small quantity of music for the piano, a string quintet andfive completed string quartets. The first of these last, the String Quartet inD minor, completed in 1882, remained unpublished in the composer's lifetime,while the String Quartet in G minor, Opus 13, completed in 1888, wasrevised ten years later. The String Quartet in F minor, Opus 5, waswritten in 1890, to be followed in 1898 by the String Quartet in E flatmajor, Opus 14. A work for string quartet, Piacevolezza, Opus 19,written in 1906, was revised in 1919 as the String Quartet in F major,Opus 44.
The String Quartet in F minor, Opus 5, was the first to be published.
Nielsen wrote the first movement in Copenhagen and the other movements duringthe course of travel abroad. In a letter to his teacher at the Conservatory,Orla Rosenhoff, he describes the performance of the quartet, after fiverehearsals, for Joachim in Berlin. Nielsen himself remarks on the difficultyposed to players by the modulations and enharmonic changes of notes, and itseems that Joachim himself found something not to his taste here. Nielsen,however, rejected Joachim's suggestions, which seemed to centre precisely onthose elements that he himself found most attractive, Joachim modestly withdrewhis criticisms, declaring himself only an old Philistine and realising thatNielsen would achieve much. The work was well received at its first publicperformance in April 1892 and was soon heard widely in Denmark and abroad.
The first movement, marked Allegro non troppo, ma energico, isstartling in the vigour of its opening subject, leading to a lyricalSchubertian secondary theme, introduced by the cello. A closing section,largely underpinned by the dominant of the cello, is followed by a repetitionof the exposition. The material is skilful1y developed and returns in finalrecapitulation, the viola now offering a changed version of the second 2 subject.
The C major slow movement allows viola and cello to introduce the principaltheme, given its full form by the first violin. The music shifts into a tenserC minor, before the return of the main theme, now entrusted to the cello. Theoriginal key returns for the Scherzo, introduced by the rapid notes ofthe first violin, accompanied by the plucked notes of the rest of the quartet.
There is a trio section in C major, underpinned by the repeated drone ofthe cello, before the return of the first section of the movement and a finalcoda. The Finale is again in tripartite sonata-allegro form, with aforthright first subject, a gentler second subject, central development,recapitulation and a dramatic and exciting final section.
The String Quartet in G minor, Opus 13, was first performed on3rd February 1898, ten years after its composition and now in a new revision.
It was published in 1900, with a dedication to Johan Svendsen. There is acertain tension in the first theme, relaxing into a lyrical secondary themefrom the cello. There is ample scope for modulation in the central development,ending in strident chords that usher in an abridged recapitulation, its secondsubject now first entrusted to the first violin. The slow movement opens in Eflat major and is in a lilting 9/8 metre. This frames a more excited centralsection in G minor, but shifting markedly in key as it progresses. The C minor Scherzohints at Nielsen's early musical experiences in his native villageparticularly in the central G major Trio, with its characteristic bass.
The last movement has the original feature of an overt declaration, in therecapitulation, so signalled in the score, that there is here a resume ofearlier themes, the principal themes of the third and first movements, set incounterpoint one against the other. This reminiscence is placed between thefirst and second subjects, the latter followed by a coda that again alludes tothe main theme of the first movement, an attempt at a measure of cyclic unity.
Oslo String Quartet
The Oslo String Quartet was established in connection with the Mozartbicentennial in 1991 and quickly won an important position in the concert lifeof Scandinavia. The leader of the quartet, Geir Inge Lotsberg, has served asleader of the Bergen Philharmonic and the Norwegian State Opera Orchestra, withthe violinist Per Kristian Skalstad as co-leader in the latter. The violist AreSandbakken is co-principal violist of the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra and?ÿystein Sonstad is principal cellist with the Trondheim Soloists. The youngquartet performs regularly at Norwegian music festivals such as the BergenInternational Music Festival and has benefited from the advice of Andras Mihalyof the Budapest Liszt Academy as well as from members of the Borodin Quartet.