The DSQ’s ‚Prism‘ is Essential Listening! […] Listen to any of the Bach fugues on the ‚Prism’ releases, and you find that few, if any, of the thematic entries are underlined or even pointed out. Even when they adopt the bare tone they favor in Bach, they adjust their balances to welcome a new line, a new thought, with exquisite, barely perceptible ease. […] You get the sense in these recordings that every bar of music has been as carefully considered as it should be, that the minutest aspect of each note hasbeen discussed; the control of sonority and articulation on show is absolute, even as the range of both is vast.
David Allen, The New York Times
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 […] 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 […] 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.
Robin Stowell, The Strad
Diesmal steht Beethovens spätes Opus 135 im Fokus. Einmal mehr stellt das dänische Quartett seine technischen und gestalterischen Qualitäten unter Beweis: Da ist zum einen die Klarheit der einzelnen Stimmen, die Linienführung, etwa im dritten Satz, gepaart mit sparsamem Vibrato. Aber da gibt es auch grimmige, schroffe Attacken, so im Vivace. Hinzu kommen eine warme Klangfärbung und die Fähigkeit zur dramatischen Verdichtung. […] Beim Streichquartett von Anton Webern entsteht über weite Strecken eine Luftigkeit, die diese Musik nicht als komplex, sondern als völlig natürlich erscheinen lässt. […] Zum Schluss wartet ’Contrapunctus XIV’ aus Bachs ‘Kunst der Fuge’. Wie sich die vier Musiker hier ins Piano zurückziehen und daraus, in verhaltenem Tempo, die einzelnen Stimmen entwickeln, sie hervor- und zurücktreten lassen,wie sie mit langem, nie ermüdendem Atem das Scheue, Kontemplative dieser Musik herausarbeiten, das ist von uneingeschränkt hoher Qualität.
Christoph Vratz, Fono Forum
Some eight years in the making, the Danish Quartet’s survey of the Beethoven late quartets reaches journey’s end: ‘last words’ are in order. And not just Beethoven’s quartet swansong Op. 135. Bach has been a constant point of reference throughout the series, and the musicians bring an effortless beatific refinement to an arrangement of the chorale prelude ‚Vor deinen Thron tret’ ich hiermit‘, a work supposedly dictated by Bach from his deathbed. […] The series’ customary 20th-century companion is Webern’s single-movement String Quartet of 1905, a work suffused with the voluptuous expressionism of his teacher Schoenberg’s sextet ‚Verklärte Nacht‘, and it’s delivered with expansive insight and lyrical sweep. Op. 135, meanwhile, discloses all the hallmarks of close study, intelligent interrogation and fastidiously calibrated response, that have characterised the performances throughout the cycle. The insouciant opening is lovingly detailed; the Vivace scampers along before the music turns formidably truculent […] A potent reading, potently illuminated by the contextualising Bach and Webern.
Paul Riley, BBC Music Magazine
The juxtapositions on each album are highly rewarding. Equally important is the fact that the programming allows for the discovery of quartets less well-known than the Beethoven pieces; to me, for instance, the Schnittke and Webern compositions were completely new, and I’m very glad to have made their acquaintance. Rest assured, all the pieces that accompany the Bach and Beethoven are well worth listening to repeatedly in their own right. And then, of course, there are the performances. […] the three Danes met as children at summer camp, while the Norwegian cellist joined the quartet in 2008 – and it shows in the precision and empathy of their interactions. Their playing is wonderfully transparent and nuanced throughout (well served, of course, by the clarity and resonance of ECM’s production), ranging from pure power to exquisite delicacy, strident dissonance to elegant lyricism as the music requires; it is refined, intelligent, balanced, unflashy, meticulous – but never remotely dry. There is beauty in abundance. In short, this is marvellous music marvellously performed. A review of Prism V in the New York Times claimed, ‘these releases must qualify as some of the most essential listening of the past decade.’ I am tempted to agree.
Geoff Andrew, Notes & Observations