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Danish String Quartet performs memorable concert in Mary Seaton Room

The Danish String Quartet’s violist Asbjorn Norgaard expressed surprise at the number of people crowded into the Mary Seaton Room of Kleinhans Music Hall given the weather, noting that it was “nice to see that it isn’t just Scandinavians that know how to deal with snow.” It shouldn’t have been too surprising though, especially given the advance reviews the group had been receiving the past few years.

This was one of those concerts where the attendees will remember with fondness and perhaps even awe. The program was well thought out, the playing was marvelous, and everything that could go right, did.

Two of the works played have had multiple performances in the Buffalo Chamber Music Society’s series – Ludwig van Beethoven’s early B flat major quartet (op. 18, no. 6) and Felix Mendelssohn’s A minor score (op. 13) – while Alfred Schnittke’s third string quartet received its first airing in Kleinhans Music Hall. The one thing they all had in common, other than being written for a quartet, was a tie to Beethoven, one by authorship, one by direct influence (Mendelssohn), and the last by direct quotes (Schnittke).

Beethoven’s piece was probably where he really began to step into the future. The influences of Franz Joseph Haydn and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart were in attendance but, especially in the second movement Adagio, the mature composer was starting to raise his profile. For all intents and purposes, it revealed the heart of the program, dancing with emotion and harmony.

Schnittke’s score had that Dmitri Shostakovich shadow cast over the proceedings, but quotes Beethoven’s “Grosse Fugue,” amd a lovely snippet from Orlando de Lasso brought 19th and 16th century ghosts into the 20th century mix. The music resulting from this kind of musical quotation was intense, moving, and, by turns, disturbingly beautiful.

Norgaard probably had this particular piece in mind during the pre-concert talk when he made the point that not all music worth playing is beautiful, in part because composers often attempt to create material which challenges instead of sating the senses.

Mendelssohn’s work was the kind of music that seems to have sprung fully formed from the pen of a seasoned craftsman instead of from an extremely talented young person. It showcased the influence of Beethoven’s late quartets while, at the same time, breaking new ground (re: string quartet writing) for the composer.

As an encore, the musicians performed a brief arrangement of a Scandinavian folk tune, the “Waltz after Lasse in Lyby” that proved the perfect aperitif for the evening.

Overall, it would be tough to say which was the finest performance of the evening; things were going to be a matter of a listener’s taste. One thing for sure though was that the group delivered on all counts and, if it ever comes to town again, chamber music fans should make their plans to attend. Really. They’re that good.


Who: Danish String Quartet

When: Tuesday evening in the Mary Seaton Room of Kleinhans Music Hall

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