Good morning everyone...the string quartets are warming up, and in 30 minutes we'll be live with Day 4 of the Carl Nielsen International Chamber Music Competition!
Here we go...the day's first contestants, the Cervin Quartet from Switzerland.
This is Claude Debussy's String Quartet written in 1893 - fluid, mercurial music that is extremely difficult to play convincingly.
The work takes a single theme and has it evolve through various states. It's certainly a pre-cursor to Debussy's famous 'Prelude a l'après-midi...' written the year later.
The Cervin Quartet impressed in Round 1 - Haydn full of fresh air, space and wit. Nielsen Op 13 that danced and sang.
It was also notable that in Round 1, the two violinists swapped chairs for the two pieces. Will they do the same today?
We'll just hear the first three movements of the Debussy, ending with this Andantino, and then it's on to the world premiere of Gustav Bjerre's String Quartet in One Movement.
SO...as the first contestants of the day, the Cervin Quartet now have the privilege of giving Gustav Bjerre's piece its world premiere.
The composer, born in 1992, worked fastidiously on the score's details, as he 'strived to bring out a play of nuances on the surface and give the texture as much life as possible.'
'Rhythmic pulsation becomes a theme itself,' writes Gustav Bjerre in the score...at the end, those rhythms coalesce.
Another fascinating new work - let's see how the five other quartets put their mark on it!
Now: Schumann! Robert Schumann, that is. His String Quartet Op 41 No 1.
We'll hear the second, third and fourth movements - starting with this fantastic, airborne Scherzo.
This is peak Schumann isn't it? Music written under the spell of total inspiration, at breakneck speed, in June and July 1842.
The music seems to carry with it Schumann's very own ambiguity of mood. Perhaps capturing that elusive inner spirit is the biggest challenges the Op 41 set of quartets presents to musicians.
So it's a 'home team' now - the NOVO Quartet from here in Copenhagen (though they currently study in Vienna).
They're giving us Mendelssohn's String Quartet No 2 - a piece that has resonance in this competition...
...not only is it perfect for young ensembles - full of the ardour and passion of youth - it has also found a notable exponent in a previous winner of this competition, the Arod Quartet...
...after the Arod Quartet won this competition in 2015, they recorded this very quartet for the Erato label. My colleague at Gramophone magazine wrote that 'for mingled passion and eloquence...a desperate no-holds-barred intensity, the Arod rival the Elias and Leipzig Quartets.' The recording won an Editor's Choice.
The NOVO Quartet studied with chamber music guru Tim Frederiksen, professor at the Royal Danish Academy of Music and the man who has assembled/coached a golden generation of Danish string quartets: the Danish String Quartet, Nightingale String Quartet, Nordic String Quartet and also the Absalon String Quartet which appeared in Round 1 two days ago.
And so on to the second (ever) performance of Gustav Bjerre's String Quartet in One Movement.
One of the 'tests' in this piece is playing quarter-tones - the 'notes between the notes' that you don't see on a piano keyboard.
There are also polyrhythms, harmonics and instructions to play 'molto sul pont' or 'poco sul pont' (very close to the bridge or slightly close to the bridge).
And so to Bartók: his String Quartet No 4.
This is a piece that still has a capacity to shock, even 97 years after it was written.
This is music that demands the utmost concentration from the four musicians - its rhythmic interplay is extremely intricate...and all those eerie effects need to create an atmosphere (they're on the way soon...)
The tension in this slow movement, 'Non troppo lento', is very difficult to sustain.
Bows on the floor now for the 'Allegretto pizzicato'. Bartók's entirely plucked final movement.
We're taking a short break now but stay tuned - the competition resumes at 14.00 local time.
Welcome back - more Mendelssohn now, the third quartet, from the Nerida Quartet.
Again, what could be more perfect for a young quartet than Mendelssohn? This music breathes joie de vivre and exultation. But the players will have to find something entirely different for the slow third movement they're playing next.
And that's the longest stretch of music we'll hear today...unless the HANA Quartet take it slower!
Now to Mendelssohn's highly poetic slow movement. This is gorgeous music imbued with a spirit of restraint. It has a very particular character.
After that third performance of Gustav Bjerre's String Quartet in One Movement, it's back to Bartók - his String Quartet No 3.
The work is effectively written in one movement. It's notably for the prominence of its inner voice - so listen out for viola and second violin - and for its polarized dynamics (especially towards the end). Those glissandos we're hearing in the cello will become something of a feature later on...
Once again, there is so much to test the musicians in this piece - not least, the fact that all that complexity needs to sound natural and unforced.
It was Bartók's standard device to displace rhythm, distort melody and constantly stake-out new musical ground...all those things are happening in this piece, and almost ALL the time!
Now, the same again! Exactly the same music - and in the same order - from the Munich-based HANA Quartet.
Gosh...Mendelssohn at his most exultant, and these players are living and breathing it.
This quartet rotated its violinists in the last round - so different players were in the first violin chair for the Haydn than for the Nielsen. Will they do the same again here?
Huge contrast between those two movements of Mendelssohn's Third Quartet - but both of them with that sure sense of momentum that is so characteristic of the composer.
And yes, the violinists are indeed rotating.
There is so much rhythmic complexity in this piece by Gustav Bjerre. That does a good job of testing a quartet's sense of ensemble, but it also makes for some really fascinating music.
It's so interesting, that different ensembles have chosen to highlight different elements of the piece - its glassy harmonies, its sense of overall fragility, or that rhythmic compulsion...I sense this ensemble from Munich has found the latter element very stimulating.
We're taking a short break now...back at 16.00 local time. See you then!
Straight into Gustav Bjerre's String Quartet in One Movement, here from today's fifth competitors, the Kleio Quartet from London.
This ensemble is no stranger to this competition. It competed in the 2019 edition of the event - but back then, it had two different members.
Schumann now - his sunny Op 41 No 2, more music from his 'annus mirabilis' of 1842.
We'll hear the first two movements of this quartet - so now, the second movement, Andante quasi variazione (yes, a variation movement)
And now, another first for today - Bartók's second quartet.
We will hear the first two movements, beginning with the opening Moderato - unusually luxuriant, euphonous music...at least in the context of Bartók's other quartets heard today.
Whereas the other Bartók quartets have tested agility and athleticism, this one really tests blend and intonation - in its first movement, at least.
And so we arrive at the last ensemble of the day: the Neuma Quartet from Poland.
And they bring us new music: the third of Schumann's Op 41 quartets.
'Agitato' it is marked, and 'agitato' is what we got - that's an intoxicating bit of Schumann, doing what he does with a fertile little musical idea. Great to see these Polish musicians really enjoying it.
This third movement is a challenge too - as it shifts almost imperceptibly from this hymn-like music to something far more...well, agitated.
Now, for the last time today, Gustav Bjerre's String Quartet in One Movement...
...hasn't it been great to have this piece played six times today? It has really showed us how divergent approaches to a score can be. A score is never unequivocal...no matter how much specification and detail it contains!
The final piece of the day: back to Bartók's String Quartet No 3.
A day of great, intense performances - but that's all for now. We expect a jury decision after 6pm local time tonight. Stay tuned on this website or the competition's facebook page to hear which of these brilliant quartets will be playing in tomorrow's Grand Finale...
...both the wind and string finals will be streamed tomorrow from 11am local time (winds) and 5pm local time (strings). It's been a pleasure to have you with me today, and I hope you'll join me tomorrow.