Nielsen: String Quartet No. 1; String Quartet No. 4; Little Suite for Strings, Op. 1

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LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: String Quartet No. 1; String Quartet No. 4; Little Suite for Strings, Op. 1
PERFORMER: Zapolski Quartet
While Nielsen’s orchestral works regularly grace concert halls throughout the world, his chamber music, with the exception of the Wind Quintet, rarely gets an airing outside his native Denmark. Perhaps the composer shares some responsibility for this, since after 1906 he seems to have abandoned any interest whatsoever in writing string quartets. Yet although both the works presented here date from the period before Nielsen achieved stylistic maturity, they are by no means of negligible stature.


Despite its obvious indebtedness to Brahms and Svendsen, the early G minor Quartet has enough passages of originality (eg the folk-inflected harmonies of the middle section of the Scherzo) to engage the listener, while its F major companion exudes charm, humour and a marvellous eloquence in the slow movement.


With its charismatic Russian first violinist, the Danish-based Zapolski Quartet delivers a bracing and enthusiastic account of the G minor Quartet. It also captures the disarmingly indolent nature of the F major Quartet’s first movement to perfection, although Nielsen’s frequent use of acciaccaturas cause some rhythmic problems, and the players ride roughshod over some of the dynamics later on in the work. Alexander Zapolski’s quartet arrangement of the Little Suite makes an agreeable filler, but one misses the textural richness of the full string orchestra in the tutti passages of the finale. Erik Levi