“The whole approach invites active, committed listening. The group plays with virtuosity, intensity and tenderness.” Fiona Maddocks, The Observer
From conception to completion, the Danish String Quartet’s Prism project has been almost eight years in the making: “our string quartet ritual of passage”, as the players now look back upon it, a process of discovery. Lines of connection are drawn in the five Prism volumes, from a Bach fugue through one of the late Beethoven quartets to the music of a subsequent composer: “A beam of music is split through Beethoven’s prism,” in the Danes’ words.
Throughout the series the DSQ have emphasized that “late Beethoven is not a disconnected island in music,” but rather “a continuation from Bach and the old masters,” which, furthermore, points toward the future. Previous recordings in the series have addressed the influence of late Beethoven on Shostakovich, Schnittke, Bartók and Mendelssohn. On Prism V, Bach and Beethoven are heard alongside Anton Webern, and musical affinities are newly illuminated.
As the group remark in a performers’ note on Prism V, “The music on these albums is delightfully complex and open-ended…A late quartet by Beethoven is an incredibly intricate piece of art. One can spend a lifetime zooming in on every inch of the score and still find new details. Each bar, each moment is a maze of possible interpretational paths…”
On the fifth and final Prism volume, Johann Sebastian Bach’s chorale prelude Vor deinen Thron tret ich hiermit “opens up like a flower” (as Paul Griffiths writes in the liner notes) to preface Ludwig van Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 16 in F major. Anton Webern’s early String Quartet, composed in 1905 – and inspired both by Beethoven’s op. 135 and Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht – follows, and the programme returns to Bach with Contrapunctus 14 from The Art of the Fugue.
The Danish String Quartet’s three Danish-born members, Rune Tonsgaard Sørensen, Frederik Øland and Asbjørn Nørgaard first played chamber music together in a music summer camp before they were even teenagers. In 2006 they made their first recordings as the Young Danish String Quartet, immediately attracting the attention of publications from Gramophone to the New York Times. In 2008, Norwegian cellist Fredrik Schøyen Sjölin joined the quartet, and the group has since gone from strength to strength, with repertoire embracing core classical and contemporary music, as well as folk music, which they also play with verve and commitment – as evidenced on their ECM album Last Leaf (2017). The group’s first ECM recording from 2015 comprised Thomas Adès’s Arcadiana, Per Nørgård’s Quartetto Breve, and Hans Abrahamsen’s 10 Preludes.
The DSQ’s Prism series of recordings was initiated in 2016 with the first volume incorporating Bach’s Fugue in E-flat major from The Well-Tempered Clavier, Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 12 and Shostakovich’s Quartet No. 15. The album received a Grammy nomination. Prism II features Bach’s B-flat minor Fugue from The Well-Tempered Clavier, Beethoven’s String Quartet Op. 130/“Große Fuge” Op. 133, and Alfred Schnittke’s String Quartet No. 3. (“A revelatory connected soundscape in which Beethoven’s introspection feels more unsettling than usual.” – BBC Music Magazine.) On Prism III the quartet interprets Bach’s C-sharp minor Fugue, Beethoven’s String Quartet Op. 131 and Béla Bartók’s String Quartet No. 1., prompting Stereophile to ask “What on Prism III is more exquisite, the music or the musicianship? The question is beside the point when you’re dealing with the exalted level of refinement, restraint, and elegance that the Danish String Quartet brings to the great music of Beethoven, Bartók, and Bach.” Prism IV with Bach’s G minor Fugue, Beethoven String Quartet Op. 132 and Mendelssohn’s String Quartet No. 2 again netted much critical praise: “Imaginative programming and superb quartet playing make this an outstanding album,” The Strad declared. “Each of these works is intricately constructed using time-honoured devices such as fugues, and within that intervallic and motific liaisons which forge cogency and continuity. These are elements that the Danish Quartet palpably cherish.”
Prism V was recorded in Copenhagen, and produced by Manfred Eicher.
CD booklet includes liner notes by Paul Griffiths and a performers’ note from the Danish String Quartet.