Nightingale Quartet starts Vagn Holmboe series

Danish composer Vagn Holmboe completed 20 string quartets, each a deeply personal statement. I applaud the Nightingale String Quartet for undertaking a traversal of these works.

Holmboe was a 20th Century composer, but he didn’t necessarily follow its trends. Holmboe wrote in a mostly neo-classical style. In his mature period (which he began writing quartets), Holmboe used a technique of Jean Sibelius.

He would present motifs and thematic fragments that would, over the course of the movement (or work), grow and transform, providing an organic foundation for the music.

String Quartet No. 1, Op. 46 was published in 1949 — but it wasn’t Holmboe’s first. He had written ten quartets before this one. The Op. 46 quartet marked a turning point in his style. The first violin opens the quartet, laying out all the material that will be used throughout the 27-minute work.

The String Quartet No. 3, Op. 48 came just 15 months after the first. It also uses the same development technique. To my ears, the development of themes seemed more fully integrated into the music. The opening ideas are spread among the ensemble rather than formally presented by one instrument. The result is (to me), a conversation that gradually takes form as it progresses.

The third quartet on this release is No. 15, Op. 135 from 1979. Here the thematic material is even more tightly focussed. It’s a two-note idea that opens the first movement. And that figure also generated his 14th and 16th string quartets.

The Nightingale Quartet is off to a great start. They just finished their survey of Rued Langgard string quartets. Holmboe (stylistically) is the next logical step. I’m glad they took it.

Holmboe String Quartets Volume 1
Nightingale String Quartet
Dacapo 8.22

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