CD review: “Last Leaf” is fresh

Cover of "Last Leaf" album.

Melinda Bargreen
Everett, Wash.

This is the recording you’ve been looking for: fresh, gorgeous, and unmistakably Nordic.

The Danish String Quartet, famous for unusual programming and folk influences as well as unimpeachable technical chops, has recrafted 16 pieces of beautiful folk music into an exquisitely played new recording, Last Leaf.

The quartet lineup includes a variety of traditional instruments as well as the usual strings on this recording. Performers include Rune Tonsgaard Sørensen (violin, harmonium, piano, glockenspiel), Frederik Øland (violin), Asbjørn Nørgaard (viola), and Fredrik Schøyen Sjölin (violoncello).

By any standards, this is an unusual quartet. Three of the four members met as pre-teens in a summer music camp and began playing chamber music so intensively that “none of us have any memory of our lives without the string quartet.” The DSQ focuses on Danish and Nordic repertoire, with all sorts of additional influences from traditional quartet repertoire and brand-new works. The players are well known for their high level of ensemble playing, their versatility, and their passionate intensity in performance.

The point of inspiration for the pieces on this recording was a Christmas hymn, “Now found is the fairest of roses,” published in 1732 by Danish theologian and poet H.A. Brorson. The hymn’s setting blends an old Lutheran funeral chorale with the Christmas text, and the DSQ used the hymn as a point of embarkation through “the rich fauna of Nordic folk melodies until returning to Brorson in the end,” as the players put it. “It is a journey that could have been made in many different ways, but we believe that we returned with some nice souvenirs. In these old melodies, we find immense beauty and depth, and we can’t help but sing them through the medium of our string quartet. Brorson found the fairest of roses, we found a bunch of amazing tunes—and we hope you will enjoy what we did to them.”

These sneakily charming tracks are so lyrical and so inventive that you may find yourself returning again and again to sample them. The folk-tune sources are always clear in the melodic structure, which is given a harmonic underpinning that may surprise those acquainted with the originals. Somehow this music manages to be gently naïve and musically sophisticated all at once.

The DSQ will bring some of this music on tour in the next several months. Its current tour schedule is enough to make a travel agent dizzy: autumn dates in Europe, then a leap to Vermont and Ohio and other U.S. destinations beginning in early October—and then the European capitals, and then (in February of 2018) a return to the U.S. from San Francisco to New York, and finally off to Luxembourg and Denmark and then the U.S. again. Note to Pacific Northwest music lovers: the Danish String Quartet will bring some Last Leaf selections on tour to Meany Theater on the University of Washington campus, on Valentine’s Day (Feb. 14, 2018). They’re also playing a Bartok quartet and one of Beethoven’s lovely “Rasumovsky” quartets (Op. 59, No. 2). What a great Valentine gift for your favorite music lover!

For full tour dates check DSQ’s website, www.danishquartet.com/event.

This article originally appeared in the Sept. 22, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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