Langgaard String Quartets Nos. 1, 2 & 3

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COMPOSERS: Rued Langgaard
LABELS: Dacapo
ALBUM TITLE: Langgaard
WORKS: String Quartets Nos 2, 3 & 6; Variations on ‘Mig Hjertelig Nu Laenges’ (Oh, sacred head, sore wounded)
PERFORMER: Nightingale String Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: 6220575

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One of the many refreshing things about the Danish maverick Rued Langgaard is the way he eludes being tagged either ‘modernist’ or ‘conservative’. At first the Second Quartet sounds like a piece of vigorous early 20th-century Romanticism. But it soon becomes clear that this composer doesn’t think like anyone else.

The ideas can be lively, beautiful, touching, at times more than a little weird. You might expect them to unfold along relatively familiar formal lines; instead you might end up wondering if there’s real progress at all – at least in the familiar Western European sense.

Themes and gestures relate to each other rather like figures in a mobile designed by Max Escher. This paradox is easier to grasp in the more outwardly radical Quartet No. 3, which echoes the edgier Nielsen, late Janácˇek and the younger Hindemith, yet outdoes any of them in the sheer strangeness of its associative logic. Even the startlingly un-20th century-sounding Variations – which at times could be either Beethoven or Schumann paying tribute to JS Bach – has a quietly riddling quality. Crucially the Nightingale Quartet understand all these aspects: the provocative vitality, the fragile romantic sensitivity and the striking intellectual independence behind it all. It’s all beautifully recorded too.

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Stephen Johnson