The Danish Quartet perform works by Abrahamsen, Adès and Nørgård

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COMPOSERS: Abrahamsen,Ades,Nørgård
LABELS: ECM
ALBUM TITLE: Abrahamsen • Adès • Nørgård
WORKS: Adès: Arcadiana; Nørgård: Quartet No. 1 (Quartetto Breve); Abrahamsen: Preludes
PERFORMER: Danish Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: ECM 481 2385

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Adès’s Arcadiana sprang into being in 1994, reaching back to a Venice haunted by Britten and Liszt in a series of seven idylls of hallucinogenic intensity. Curious young quartets immediately recognised a work of genius: this recording and the Quatuor Varèse’s brings the tally to eight. Here vaulting imagination is so precisely mapped that poor performances are rare; but for sheer range and penetrating intelligence, this is my favourite. In the Danes’ hands the Elgarian ‘O Albion’ sheds its pale shroud and breaks the heart, while drunken pizzicatos and slithering dissolution in ‘Auf dem Wassen zu singen’ have a thrilling abandon, and ‘tango mortale’ comes at you with the force of nightmare.

What’s fascinating is how these exquisite visions fugitives are clear kin to Abrahamsen’s kaleidoscopic 10 Preludes (1973). These terse miniatures seem to ask questions about the nature of composition at that point in time, answering each with probing wit, captured here with bristling style. More powerful still is Nørgård’s first quartet from 1952: Bartók and Holmboe are present in the explosive rhythms of the Allegro, but already the 20-year-old composer is playing with intervals rather than keys, interrogating their intensity, their translucence and opacity from different perspectives.

Helen Wallace

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