A recent release by the Danish String Quartet called Last Leaf lets the players return to their folk music roots, while keeping the spirit, technique and sound of a classical quartet. It’s a blend of recent and traditional works in the folk tradition, in arrangements by violinist Rune Tonsgaard Sørensen and cellist Fredrik Schøyen Sjölin. They present draft arrangements, and with violist Asbjørn Nørgaard and Frederik Øland, they make fine adjustments.
There’s more information about the recording at the Danish String Quartet website. They’ll be coming to the area for a San Francisco Performances concert in February that will include some of this repertoire.
“A couple of us grew up first as folk musicians, and then only later kind of turned into classical string quartet musicians,” explains violist Asbjørn Nørgaard. “And I think around ten years ago, we started to incorporate folk music a little bit into the classical programs, often as encores.” This led to a crowdfunded album of such arrangements a few years ago, and now this one on the ECM label. They bring their conservatory technique to the repertoire. “We play mostly classical music. We play the greatest composers, Beethoven, all these guys, all the time. And we are very inspired with what they can do with texture, and how they can create a sound. And we love the sound of the string quartet, that’s why we do it. What we do is not actually folk music. It’s somewhere between classical music and folk music. And our vision is to use the strengths that we have in a string quartet and kind of apply that on this traditional folk material.” The two principal arrangers are Sjölin and Sørensen, who says, “We have to approach it as composers, because the material we have in the traditional tunes are very limited. Basically, we only have a melodic line. There’s no harmony, there’s no structure or texture, all these things that you need to put in in an arrangement to make it interesting to listen to in a concert situation.”