Danish String Quartet Review

Arts & Lectures House Calls Series with DSQ on November 12

Danish String Quartet | Credit: Caroline Bittencourt (file)

“House Calls,” the oasis of streaming concerts presented this fall by UCSB Arts & Lectures, spent two recent visits to the in-house and down-homey quarters of Jason Isbell and Nathaniel Rateliff. But for its latest edition, on Thursday, November 12, the series got “serious” and went to church. Specifically, the beloved, acclaimed Danish String Quartet continued its run of A&L-linked concerts with a pre-taped concert in a church on their home turf in Copenhagen. 

 To qualify the serio-churchy description, however, the dynamic foursome beautifully regaled us with its dual-purpose essence, balancing the hour-ish program between the concert music business of Shostakovich’s Quartet No. 10, and a hearty menu of specially-arranged Danish and other Nordic folk songs in the second half. That workable split personality has been a signature stamp for the group for years, best illustrated locally when, in 2017, they played a double header in town: a Scandi-folk concert at Rockwood was followed by a buttoned-down classical program at Campbell Hall.

 Shostakovich’s 10th quartet, written in 1964, personifies the composer’s customary dramatic panoply of light, dark, brooding and angular-salty passages, yet with a lighter touch than some of his quartet writing. Its movingly mournful Adagio, with its restive tonality, segues without break into the folk-tinged final movement, and a recapitulation of early themes. The DSQ brought to the challenging score its ideal, balanced approach of fury and focus.

 It was a bit de-personalizing–and a reminder of the de-localizing nature of broadcast performances–to hear the musicians repeatedly defer to Tanglewood, for whom this concert was officially a streamed surrogate. But the local angle came to bear in a custom Q&A with A&L head Celesta Billeci. In that Zoom-y forum, violist Asbjørn Nørgaard offered a nugget of consolation, noting that in this time of disinformation, “music is somehow indisputable. In a philosophical way, it’s important and it can bring people together.” True, that.


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