First published in the Guardian on 21 April, 2016
Ades/Norgard/Abrahamsen: works for string quartet
Danish String Quartet (ECM)
Of all the dauntingly good young string quartets currently out there doing the rounds, the Danish String Quartet stand out — not because they’re shinier or plusher or pushier than the rest, but because of their nimble charisma, stylish repertoire and the way their light and grainy shading can turn on a dime. Their last album was a set of winsome Nordic folk tunes; now comes this classy ECM debut with three bold early works by contemporary composers. Hans Abrahamsen described the exploded landscapes of his 10 Preludes as ‘short stories’; Thomas Ades called his Arcadiana “images associated with ideas of the idyll”, while Per Norgard’s Quartetto Breve is seven handsomely sculpted minutes of almost-tonality. It’s an exacting programme requiring grace, grit and clarity and the Danish players sound terrific — lithe and glassy in the Abrahamsen, richer in the Norgard, able to capture the picturesque watery shimmer of the Ades but also the slime and murk below the surface. It’s a sophisticated performance.