Dallas — The Danish String Quartet presented a near flawless performance for the Dallas Chamber Music Society at Southern Methodist University’s Caruth Auditorium on Monday evening. The tackled two major pieces of the repertoire and something lighter as an amuse-bouche between them.
In general, the Danish Quartet delivered an impeccable performance of everything on the program. Intonation, bowing and ensemble were as perfect as humans can achieve.
What is remarkable is that they rarely refered to each other for starts or other musical cues as they performed. They must have some kind on ESP going on, or maybe a Vulcan Mind Meld. Maybe it is the result of playing together all over the world for 17 years, but it must be something more than that. No matter how it was achieved, it produced a remarkable performance that sounded like there was only one player. This also helped them to achieve the noteworthy clarity of lines, so important in the contrapuntal writing of both composers (more about that later).
Anther striking thing about their performance is the extraordinary legato that they achieve. It sounds like they have a circular bow.
As to intonation, it was immediately obvious that the same ESP applies to carefully matching pitches. It is rare to hear such dead-on intonation and, at intermission, nearly everyone was commenting on it.
They opened with Bartók’s First String Quartet, an early work written when he was still refining his unique style and musical voice. It was finished in 1909 when composers were beginning to battle the bastions of tonality. Schoenberg’s revolutionary second string quartet, written a year before, in 1908, featured two movements that were vaguely tonal but two others that struggled to escape the bounds of the tonal centers, even though they both ended with a traditional major chord. Once that seminal work hit the streets, everything changed and its influence on Bartók was no exception.
Each of Bartok’s six string quartets marks a milestone in his compositional career and creates a musical biography. The first one is all about unrequited love for Stefi Geyer, the violinist for which he wrote his violin concerto. He even quotes a motif from that larger work in the very contrapuntal first movement.
This brings us to the connection between the Bartók and the Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 14, Op. 131 that closed the concert. It mainly rests in the first movement of each. Both feature complex, slow counterpoint and the connections between the two works are obvious. How nice to hear them both on a single concert!
The lighter fare mentioned above was some Nordic folksongs that they arranged themselves. They had as much fun playing them as we did hearing them. It was hard to keep your feet from moving. What was revealing was the similarity of these tunes to Irish and Scottish folk music and their adoption in the American south and Appalachia. To channel Gertrude Stein: a jig is a gigue, it appears.