A fascinating century-hopping series reaches a fitting finale

Danish Quartet: Prism V


The Strad Issue: May 2023

Description: A fascinating century-hopping series reaches a fitting finale

Musicians: Danish Quartet

Works: Bach: The Art of Fugue BWV1080: Contrapunctus XIV; Vor deinen Thron tret ich hiermit BWV668. Beethoven: String Quartet in F major op.135. Webern: String Quartet

Catalogue number: ECM NEW SERIES 4858469 

The Danish’s ‘Prism’ series ‘passes a linear beam of light’ from Bach’s seminal contrapuntal writing to Beethoven’s late quartets, which then function as the prismatic pathway to a related, more recent work. Bach’s solemn organ chorale prelude BWV668 and Contrapunctus XIV from The Art of Fugue provide the bookends for this final instalment, the players responding naturally and subtly to each other and bringing clarity and fluidity to their contrapuntal interaction, despite a predominantly smooth, sustained approach. The blending of timbre and secure intonation are matched by playing of conversational vitality in the opening Allegro and fiery scherzo of Beethoven’s op.135. The slow movement’s meditative variations are conveyed with radiance and intensity – though the initial sotto voce indication is largely ignored – and the finale is negotiated with seasoned skill and authority, the impassioned intensity and anguish of its introductory material contrasting sharply with the affirmative joy and vigour of its Allegro.

The fundamental motif of Webern’s tripartite, single-movement String Quartet (1905) links well with op.135’s finale, signalling its serial potential before releasing a sound world warmed by late-Romantic tonality and textures, exquisitely shaded and balanced. Throughout, ECM’s engineers do full justice to these refined, coherent and erudite performances, which combine an exhilarating sweep with minute attention to details of phrasing and timbre.