Johan Kvandal (1919-1999)
Complete String Quartets
Fugue (1946)
String Quartet No 1 (1940)
String Quartet No 2 (1966)
String Quartet No 3 (1983)
Two Norwegian Dances (1976)
Engegård Quartet
rec. 2021, Oslo, Norway
LAWO Classics LWC1253 [74]

Kvandal was born in Kristiania, today’s Oslo. He studied with Geirr Tveitt, Joseph Marx, Nadia Boulanger and Boris Blacher. Quite apart from these quartets Kvandal wrote a Violin Concerto, Symphony and a big opera called Mysteries. The latter dates from 1997 and is based on a novel by Nobel prize-winner Knut Hamsun. Kvandal’s father was David Monrad Johansen (1888-1974), also a German sympathiser, whose luxuriant tone poem Pan (1939) (well worth exploring) was based on/inspired by Hamsun’s novel of the same name. Curiously enough Hamsun too aligned himself with the Germans during World War II.

The serene Fugue is followed by the four-movement First Quartet op 11. This is variously busy and angular but not at all severe. The following Andante presents a busy and sorrowing weave of sound. Then we hear what equates to an Elizabethan round and a finale with fugal elements. The music holds the interest but is just a bit stiff.

From a quartet-century later comes the Second Quartet with the four movements directed to be played attacca. Here, helpfully, they are separately tracked. This work ranges over a more severe vista than the First. It’s lugubrious, sombre, with an ominous pizzicato ostinato from the cello (again in the Epilogue–finale) and desolate. There are liberal helpings of dissonance. As the notes say, this music needs and deserves repeated listening. It feels like a big work but is in total only 18 minutes in duration.

The two Norwegian Dances are from 1976. These are easier-going. The Halling seems to tell us that the sunlight has been let in with the drapes thrown wide. The Springdans is also approachable and this is as you might expect from a work which is a modernised spin on two movements of music written by Grieg for Peer Gynt; such a shame that we have not had an Alto reissue of the delightful Unicorn recording of the complete Gynt as conducted by Per Dreier.

The Third Quartet is the last of Kvandal’s four-movement Quartets. It’s more approachable than the works of the 1960s; at least going by the evidence of the Second Quartet. It sports a most remarkable, touching and inward Adagio; Classic fm please take note. The Scherzo patters and skips along with topsy-turvy energy.

The booklet notes are by Morten Carlsen and are in English only. I would have liked to read more about Kvandal but had to resort to other sources.

These quartets are not the stuff of instant conquests although the Third Quartet’s Adagio is memorable and loveable.

Rob Barnett

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