Danish String Quartet
Danish String Quartet
Frederik Øland violin
Rune Tonsgaard Sørensen violin
Asbjørn Nørgaard viola
Fredrik Schøyen Sjölin violoncello
Recorded September 2018, Reitstadel Neumarkt
Engineer: Markus Heiland
Cover: Eberhard Ross
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Release date: June 3, 2022
For this fourth installment of the PRISM series, the Danish String Quartet strikes its boldest combination of light and shadow. By starting with the Fugue in G minor, BWV 861, from Book I of Johann Sebastian Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier (as arranged by Emanuel Aloys Förster), it wears on its sleeve the subtle élan that permeates all to follow. Its textures are those of a piece of clothing one has worn for years, every memory connected with it coming to life in déjà vu. Stepping outside of that outfit and into another embroidered with the name “Ludwig van Beethoven,” it’s impossible to think of the String Quartet No. 15 in A minor, op. 132, as anything less than an unpacking of the gift we have just received. The opening forgoes Bach’s expansiveness, tracing ropes all the same but this time in less of a macrame and more of a sailor’s knot. The second movement, marked Allegro ma non tanto (“Fast, but not too much”), gives ample room for the musicians to spread their leaves in a canopy porous enough to nourish the forest floor with sunlight. The balance of urgency and patience is exemplary. A shift halfway through into sustained harmonies pushes hues of glory between the trees. The 18-minute third movement is like a pond in that while its surface appears tranquil, we are aurally edified regarding the undercurrents and other invisible forces keeping its waterline steady. A methodical seesawing between straight tones and vibrato amplifies a voice of literary dimension, circling clockwise from prologue to epilogue. Only then do we get the retrospective excitement of the fourth movement (a brief march), followed by the shifting plates of the fifth. When pizzicato punctuations from the cello signal the final stretch, a feeling of sadness eclipses the ears. Thus, any happiness we might have found must be returned to sender, leaving us to wonder when we will ever meet again.
It’s poignant to consider that Beethoven was just months from leaving this world behind when Felix Mendelssohn, then a tender 18, composed his String Quartet No. 2 in A minor, op. 13. Mendelssohn’s exploratory ethos was ripe for transplanting the influences of Beethoven’s Opus 132, watering them into a piece that overlapped in technical similarities even as it deviated in extroversion. Such is the spirit of the first movement, in which vertical and horizontal motifs favor parallel paths over common ground, so to speak. The Adagio that follows develops with nondescript urgency. The viola is especially robust as the violins circle overhead, high but never out of sight. The third movement is a delectable exercise in playfulness that foreshadows the pastoralism of Antonín Dvořák. Its abrupt ending gives us pause before the drama of the finale opens the quartet’s thickest curtain to reveal a densely populated scene, likewise open-ended in its resolution.
If any of the above reads evocatively, it’s because these Danes make it impossible to experience this program any other way. Their approach to synergy is as carefully planned as it is spontaneous, and with only one more volume to go, we have much to look forward to as this journey reaches its destination. At that point, however, we are likely to realize how much further we have yet to go in our listening.