By Greg Cahill | From the July-August 2023 issue of Strings Magazine

Having failed in their youthful attempts at mastering Beethoven’s late quartets, the Danish String Quartet now tackles the maestro’s String Quartet No. 16 in F major, Op. 135, in a bravura performance that shows the ensemble has learned its lessons well. That lesson: Beethoven’s seemingly disconnected late quartets are a continuation of Bach and the old masters. This is the fifth and final installment of the Danish’s eight-year Prism series, each built around one of Beethoven’s late string quartets, connecting a Bach fugue with a Beethoven late work and a later master. 


Prism V: Beethoven, Webern, Bach, The Danish String Quartet,(ECM)
Prism V: Beethoven, Webern, Bach, The Danish String Quartet, (ECM)

This striking recording finds Beethoven No. 16 followed by the intricate Webern String Quartet—both are bookended by a pair of Bach strings works: Vor deinen Thron tret’ich, Chorale Prelude, BWV 668, and the pastoral Art of the Fugue, NWV 1080. In this setting, the Danish—Rune Tonsgaard Sørensen and Frederik Øland, violins; Asbjørn Nørgaard, viola; and Fredrik Schøyen Sjölin, cello—provide context for what the ensemble has called the “mind blowing” nature of Beethoven’s five late string quartets. You’ll be hard pressed to find a piece of music as beautiful as No. 16’s elegantly played third movement lento assai. The Prism series is a powerful testament to the enduring nature of these monumental works and of the talent of this group of three Danes, who met as youths at a summer music camp, and a Norwegian cellist. It’s clear that this series is a rite of passage that transcends mere performance.

J.S. Bach: Vor deinen Thron tret’ ich, Chorale Prelude, BWV 668 (Arr. for String Quartet)