Pressed to identify Denmark's top five composers, most concertgoers would probably name Carl Nielsen, then lapse into a long and uncomfortable silence. In its Saturday night concert of Danish chamber music at the National Academy of Sciences, National Musical Arts threw light on a surprisingly rich vein of unfamiliar music that deserves more attention.
The music of German-born, Danish-bred Friedrich Kuhlau, which opened the program, is extroverted and expressive stuff that encourages displays of abandon. Flutist Alice Weinreb reined herself in a bit in her performance of the Flute Quintet, Op. 51, but otherwise turned in impeccable playing, accompanied with style and panache by violinists Ricardo Cyncynates and Ernestine Schor, violist Melissa Micciche and cellist David Teie.
Loren Kitt, a clarinetist well known to Washington audiences, gave a rather pensive performance of Niels Gade's austere and curiously misnamed "Fantasiestu cke," with NMA artistic director Patricia Gray at the piano. Fine performances followed of Nielsen's "Faith and Hope Are Playing," for flute and viola, and the dark, quietly beautiful "Serenata in vano."
The music of Jorgen Bentzon, influential in Scandinavia but virtually -- and regrettably -- unknown here, was represented by the "Studie i variations" for solo bassoon (1938). Performed with equal parts wit and substance by Truman Harris, each variation succeeded the other with consistent logic and improvisatory inventiveness, gradually building in color and complexity -- a fascinating work.
New directions in Danish music were indicated by Poul Ruders' two-movement String Quartet No. 2 of 1979. Eschewing the clarity and calm of his national forebears, Ruders' work weaves a fiery, dramatic fabric that plays levels of contrasting rhythm and texture against each other, heightening a tension maintained through the unsettling viola solo that closes the work.