Yes, this exciting quartet plays classical music, but if you also like folk, read on. There’s plenty of traditional dance music on this vibrant hymn-inspired collection.
Label: ECM Records
Time: 16 tracks / 48 mins
When you see the phrase ‘string quartet,’ you probably think of classical music – and why not? But while this ensemble has recorded composers from Brahms and Hayden to Abrahamsen, it has a strong inclination towards folk. Violinist Rune Tonsgaard Sørensen also plays with folk trio Dreamers’ Circus and the quartet’s earlier album Wood Works is still billed as “an album full of Nordic folk tunes arranged for string quartet.”
So this is effectively Wood Works Volume Two.
The band – most of whom have been playing together since before they were teens – has already been billed by The Washington Post as "one of the best quartets before the public today" and on the evidence of this collection, I'll happily agree.
Like many young classical performers, they also enjoy contemporary music and have brought 21st century sensitivity to some very old tunes – even up to around 800 years old. One piece here (its translated title: “I Had a Dream”) is the oldest known secular song in Nordic countries, having been found in the last leaf (hence the title) of a parchment in the Codex Runicus from around 1300 AD.
Old tunes that survive a long time often do so because their appeal never wanes. Of the folk songs in this assortment, the quartet rightly writes in the liner notes that “In these old melodies we find immense beauty and depth.”
But some songs are brand new. Three are by the group’s violincello player Fredrik Schøyen Sjölin, and one by violinist colleague Rune Tonsgaard Sørensen. His “Shine You No More” is among the most vivacious of tunes here – and there are plenty, not least the traditional Danish tune “The Dromer” and the danceable “Polska from Dorotea” with its Celtic backing rhythms and a contemporary-styled break just before the final section.
The album's inspiration was the Danish Christmas Hymn "Now Found is the Fairest of Roses," published by poet-theologian H.A. Brorson. To round things off, they close with this and open with another of his collection, “Despair Not, O Heart,” played on harmonium, to give it a hymny feel.
When you see classical music live, the clarity of the strings can be a vibrant experience and this recording captures that sonic freshness. ECM maestro Manfred Eicher has done his usual trick and made the sound crystalline without being harsh; each instrument is clearly defined.
But the whole package has been well-assembled, the quartet’s playing, arrangements and track order bringing cohesion to this disparate collection of medieval ballads, boat songs, funeral hymns and dances.
Danish String Quartet has put together a sprightly set that should appeal well beyond those who like classical music, taking in roots fans too.