Nielsen: String Quartet in E flat, Op. 14; String Quartet in F, Op. 44

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COMPOSERS: Nielsen
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: String Quartet in E flat, Op. 14; String Quartet in F, Op. 44
PERFORMER: Oslo String Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: 8.553907
Composed between the First and Second Symphonies, Nielsen’s E flat Quartet shares similar virtues to both these orchestral pieces. There’s the Danish composer’s familiar self-confidence, exuberance and rhythmic athleticism – qualities that are particularly evident in the outer movements and the central section of the Scherzo. Perhaps even more impressive is the Andante sostenuto – a profoundly absorbing movement laden with passages of restless chromaticism.

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On the surface, the later F major Quartet appears to be a more lightweight affair. Here Nielsen has emulated the transparent string textures and clear-cut structures of the 18th century, and the work’s quirky humour is obviously modelled on Haydn. But once again it’s the pure harmonies of the slow movement, emphasising Nielsen’s love of renaissance vocal music, that stays longest in the memory.

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The Oslo String Quartet present very satisfying performances of both works. Technically superior to the Zapolski Quartet on Chandos in the F major, they perhaps lack the rival quartet’s more idiosyncratic characterisation throughout the first movement. Naxos’s resonant recording is not ideal for the involved contrapuntal argument of the first movement of the E flat. But elsewhere this problem is less apparent, and the release as a whole deserves an enthusiastic recommendation. Erik Levi