GUSTAV HELSTED – Opus. 33 String quartet in F minor

Danish Late Romantic Composer Gustav Carl Helsted [1857–1924] wrote five string quartets. I am going to discuss the last, which is officially known as Opus 33, String Quartet in F minor, written in 1922 and containing four movements.

The work opens with a melodic motif that repeatedly asks a question. A move to variations on this motif makes for a satisfying mood.  There is plenty of rhythmic intensity for a time, until the opening question is revisited – more variations occur. A graceful period of melodic development ensues, this is somewhat pastoral. A new section is joyful and the questioning motif can occasionally be heard in the background. Pizzicato is introduced and the mood becomes quite intense as the violins are strong. This eventually subsides and some soft violin melodies finally give way to a strong chordal flourish.

The next movement, a presto, has a powerful introduction with much rhythmic impetus, before it gives way to a more relaxed violin duet passage, still at tempo. A change to a quieter section brings attractive melodies that are carried by two violins – this is most romantic. The intensity drops back to nothing and a new mood is slightly rhapsodic as the intensity gradually returns. The violins are again very fine as they drift in and out of various registers. Further pizzicato leads to another dynamic concluding flourish.

An andante movement commences at a dirge-like tempo, with all instruments in a low register. The cello throbs a pulsing motif as the violins intertwine in a serious manner. A lamenting passage slowly develops and the violins begin to become more forceful. A change returns to the opening character, this time the violins are wonderfully pure in their tone and melodic development, making for a marvellous feeling. Now a solo violin is heard, briefly, soon to be joined by its partner. The rhythm has gone and the violins express an alluring duet. The cello makes an entrance with long tones and the violins become more assertive before developing a rich chordal texture to finish.

The final movement begins in an assertive manner with much activity. The whole ensemble engages and moves into another pastoral phase with some delightful melodies passed between the violins. The feeling remains strong for some time and rhythmic punctuation adds to the impetus, while the violins ebb and flow. This movement is a feature for the violins and they make for a delightful atmosphere. Nearing the end, they are positively dynamic as they make a dash to the concluding chord.

The review CD has this quartet paired with a fine decet (tentet) of curious instrumentation.

It is available on Amazon US and UK, performed by the Danish Sinfonietta.

The work can be heard on Spotify, YouTube and earsense.

Listenability: Classic Late Romanticism – a very fine melodic work.


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