Kontra String Quartet
Quartet in F minor Op 5 - Nielsen
Adagio and Scherzo - Brian Boydell
Quartet in A flat Op 105 - Dvorak
The Kontra String Quartet, with a membership unchanged for over a quarter-of-a-century, is one of Denmark's best-known chamber ensembles. The group is currently on a Music Network tour, which brought it to the John Field Room on Saturday.
The Kontras have been to Dublin before, as part of the Music Festival in Great Irish Houses in 1997, and their playing on Saturday was as puzzling as it was then. Well, no, not quite. The group has a formidable reputation in contemporary music, and their handling of Brian Boydell's 1991 Adagio and Scherzo, the slightest of the composer's contributions to the string quartet medium, was straightforward and sympathetic.
In the works by Nielsen and Dvorak (the playing order, strange as it may seem, adhering to the chronology of composition), there was an unsettling hit-or-miss quality. Side by side with moments where everything gelled, were others where intonation was suspect, rhythm untidy (rigid without being solid), and expression indifferent. Early Nielsen suffered the treatment poorly. Mature Dvorak is made of sturdier stuff.
But best of all was a brief encore by Leo Weiner, chosen, we were told in honour of the leader's Hungarian nationality. It was delivered with exquisite refinement and delicacy, its ethnic character beautifully caught. The Kontra Quartet's Music Network tour takes them to Clifden, Castlebar, Drogheda, Armagh and Belfast.