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Good morning from the Royal Library on Copenhagen's harbour. Less than ten minutes now until we kick off the string quartet semi-final.
First up today is the Simply Quartet from Vienna. They gave us some enticing Haydn in Round 1 - full of natural Viennese style - and now we hear Mendelssohn, Shostakovich and Vestergård.
11:59 fact, the Simply Quartet has opted to BEGIN with the prescribed new work by the young Danish composer Matias Vestergård. We experienced yesterday, courtesy of one of the wind quintets, how starting with the challenging new piece can be a good strategy.
Sorry for the technical problems we experienced for a moment there, which left you without an English language introduction. We're back on track now!
Each of today's five quartets will play for around an hour, and they may take a short break in between pieces as the Simply Quartet did there.
So much intense, heartfelt, bold and original music coming over the course of today - Grieg, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Shostakovich, Bartok and five performance of Matias Vestergård's TRÆK, of which we just heard the world premiere.
The repertoire in this second round is designed to test the string quartets in different ways - emotional, technical, intellectual - and to see how they can communicate in three very different musical styles.
Shostakovich's quartets are never easy to play. Here's a quote I read recently in a magazine - the critic said, quartets must enter that particular world "where characters and states of mind are fragile and permeable, where understatement and trenchancy are equally important and where insinuation is often more productive than open declaration."
The quartets had a choice of Mendelssohn works to play, but only the Simply Quartet opted for the composer's Quartet Op 44 No make the most of it! (later, we hear the composer's String Quartet No 6).
Fun fact: after the Arod Quartet won this competition in 2015, they went on to record this very work (Mendelssohn's Op 44 no 2) on their debut recording for Warner Classics.
The last movement of Mendelssohn's Op 44 No 2 is marked 'fast and agitated'. He wrote it on his honeymoon. Go figure.
On their feet again, the Gyldefeldt Quartet from Leipzig. After all that hyperactivity, the finale of Bartók's String Quartet No 2 is a sullen, slow-burn movement that requires great intensity and focus from all four players.
On their feet again, the Gyldefeldt Quartet from Leipzig. After all that hyperactivity, the finale of Bartók's String Quartet No 2 is a sullen, slow-burn movement that requires great intensity and focus from all four players.
Oops- make that 'Gyldfeldt' (without the extra 'e')
Matias Vestergård on his work TRÆK: "this work was heavily inspired by the sounds of bird wings and cries, as well as the imagery of animals moving together in flocks. The third movement was inspired by a slow deliberate walk from the shore into the ocean, undertaken in autumn."
13:51's a perfect competition piece, asking for the full range of sound production techniques from stringed instruments and varied bow positions: sul ponticello (up by the bridge), sul tasto (over the fingerboard) and 'overpressure' (for that 'scrunchy' sound we can hear in this movement).
Grieg wrote of his first string quartet, written in 1877-8, "it strives towards breadth, soaring flight and above all resonance for the instruments for which it is written." We can certainly sense the influence of Norway's folk fiddle in the music...the Gyldfeldt Quartet haven't missed that either.
Grieg was, of course, no stranger to Leipzig. He studied at the conservatory there, like so many of his Nordic colleagues.
We're taking a short break now, and will be back at 15:45 (five minutes later than advertised).
Welcome back! Well, it sounds like the Novo Quartet has changed the order there and is starting with Mendelssohn. Apologies!
Both works, the Mendelssohn Op 80 and Shostakovich Op 110, are journeys into darkness. From Mendelssohn, we hear an aching conversation filled with grief following the death of his sister, Fanny.
Shostakovich's String Quartet No 8 - one of the favourites of the repertoire. A compelling piece and the Novo Quartet from here in Copenhagen is giving us a far from routine performance.
There are three Americans and a Korean in the Houston-based Balourdet Quartet. There is hardly a world-class conservatory in the USA they haven't studied at!
They sit so tightly together - a visual manifestation of how this Brahms slow movement sounds.
A reminder, right here right now, of why Brahms's string quartets are enjoying greater popularity than ever. What thrilling music and the Balourdet Quartet is obviously loving it.
The Balourdet Quartet are off to take a well-earned rest. We will resume in a few minutes with the last contestants of the day: the Elmire Quartet from Paris.
From the Parisians, we'll hear more Bartók - his racy String Quartet No 2 - and Mendelssohn's String Quartet No 6 (as well as Matias Vestergård's TRÆK).
The Elmire Quartet is the latest in a recently flurry of all-male string quartets to have emerged from France - including the Ebene Quartet and the Arod Quartet (the latter, winners of the Nielsen Competition in 2015).
We're working on the loss of vision - and if you experienced a sudden drop in sound levels a little earlier, that was because I was confusing my own volume dial for your's (doh). Sorry!
..but even without a picture, this Bartok from the Elmire Quartet is gripping.
Those spidery pizzicatos again - this is a piece that sounds, perhaps more than Bartók's others, like a living organism.
...but there is real lyricism and sweetness in the piece too. The Elmire Quartet really have a way of making them emphases come like waves - ebbing and flowing - it was much the same with their Nielsen on Wednesday.
It's worth remembering for each of our quartets, that maintaining tension doesn't necessarily mean maintaining intensity - the Elmire Quartet is demonstrating that with some skill here.
Once again, please bear with us while we try to reconnect the visual field. Our engineers are working on it and we should be back up and running very shortly. In the meantime, let your ears take the strain!
This is the heart of Bartók's second quartet - its slow-burn finale full of sullen climaxes. Plotting this movement effectively is a big challenge. Great start from the Elmire Quartet.
The bird calls and wing flaps of Matias Vestergård's TRÆK - how fascinating it has been to get to know this piece over the course of five performances today.
And now to Mendelssohn. His sixth and last string quartet, a work filled with anguish.
We hear the second, third and fourth movements from the Elmire Quartet.
So very impressive, how the Elmire Quartet is shaping this long, heartfelt Mendelssohn Adagio with an eye on its end point - and finding so many colours in it. What a contest this is shaping up to be!
That's all for today. Join us for a FULL day of finals tomorrow from 11:00 (winds) and 17.00 (strings) CET.