Rued Langgard string quartets – wonderfully strange

Danish composer Rued Langgard was not well- regarded during his lifetime. And even after his death, recognition has been a long time coming. The Nightingale String Quartet continue to do their part to rectify that by performing and recording Langgard’s string quartets.

Volume three features Langgard’s first numbers quartet, his last multi-movement quartet (No. 6 is a single movement piece), and a fascinating little postscript. Like Paul Hindemith, Langaard constructed his own tonal language that was internally consistent, even if that logic wasn’t always apparent to the listener.

Langgaard’s first quartet, written in 1914 is a an ambitious work for a young 21-year old composer. It’s quite poingnant and delicate in expression. Langaard’s sometimes strange harmonies (although less strange-sounding to 21st century ears), take the music in unexpected directions, but never too far afield. The third movement is particularly beautiful in its quiet, somber way.

The 5th string quartet (1925), written a decade later, is both progressive and regressive. It’s easy to hear how much Langgaard’s compositional skills had developed since 1914. The work is more tightly organized, the musical gestures more effective in their emotional import. The fluid lyrical melodies are the work of a composer confident in his abilities.

And yet, the quartet is a deliberately nostalgic work. Originally titled “Faraway Melodies,” the work looks back to the 1850’s, a rejection what Langaard called “the horrors of modern music.”

Also included is Langgards’s final thoughts on the genre, a short 2-minute scherzo he dashed off in 1950, near the end of his life. A lifetime of artistic rejection is summed up in the score’s notation “Can’t be bothered composing the remaining parts, perhaps to no avail.” If only he had.

The Nightingale String Quartet turns in committed performances, bringing to light the subtle nuances of the scores. Excellent performances of exceptional music.

Rued Langgard: String Quartets Vol. 3
String Quartet No. 1; String Quartet No. 5; String Quartet Movement “Italian Scherzo”
Nightingale String Quartet
Dacapo SACD 6.220577

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