A neglected Dane is compellingly revived

Nordic Quartet: Heise


The Strad Issue: September 2023

Description: A neglected Dane is compellingly revived

Musicians: Nordic Quartet

Works: Heise: String Quartets: no.1 in B minor; no.2 in G major; no.3 in B flat major

Catalogue number: Dacapo 8224734 

In his own land, and to a small band of collectors, Peter Heise (1830–79) is known as the composer of the first Danish opera of note, Drot og Marsk (‘King and Marshal’). His widow stashed away his six quartets unpublished: a poor decision, anyone would think, having heard the first three of them so elegantly revived by the Nordic Quartet in this well-aired studio recording.

Blind listening to no.2 might place the composer in Vienna, somewhere between Schubert and Schumann; at least until the Largo absent-mindedly changes subject mid-flow. If you knew what you were looking for, you might find the peculiar kind of Danish extroversion familiar from Nielsen in the Minuet, and the finale takes up its cudgels with one of those innocent-sounding themes that Haydn (but not Heise) could probe so teasingly.

The First, in B minor, sounds as if it were written after hearing Mendelssohn’s F minor unquiet farewell; it appears all three quartets were composed in 1852–3 (a decade after Schumann’s ‘quartet year’), and their youthful exuberance does not signify immaturity, as Jens Cornelius points out in a useful booklet essay. Heise knew what to do with his material, most convincingly so in the broader dimensions and expressive scope of no.3. So, in turn, do the members of the Nordic Quartet, with a period-aware palette of vibrato and a sensibility for those individual touches (a rustic drone in the middle of no.3’s opening Allegro, for example) that make Heise distinctively Nordic. Bring on Volume Two.