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Great Danes make some revelatory connections

Julian Haylock finds that all roads lead to Beethoven in the Danish Quartet’s latest imaginative programme

As Griffiths describes eloquently in his exemplary booklet annotations, there are profound familiar connections here between the contrapuntal intensity of Bach´s B minor Fugue from Book I of The Well-Tempered Clavier (heard here in an inspired arrangement by Beethoven’s friend, Emmanuel Aloys Förster), Beethovens’s ‘Grosse Fuge’ (presented, as originally intended, as the finale of the Op. 130 Quartet) and Schnittke’s Third Quartet. The quartet refers overtly to the ‘Grosse Fuge’ as the music’s virtual progenitor and (almost subliminally) to the Bach fugue.

Facinating, in this second of the Danish Quartet’s Prism series based around Beethoven’s late quartets, they trace the prismatic connections between the three pieces in the order Bach-Schnittke-Beethoven, creating a revelatory connected soundscape in which (even after the agonised hectoring if the Schnittke) Beethoven’s super-compressed introspection feels even more (at times wildly) unsettling than usual.

It’s little wonder that Beethoven decided to hide himself away at a local tavern during an early private performance of his quartet with it´s ‘Grosse Fuge’, afraid that no one would understand it: he was right! Here, though, the Danes make sense of this work while bringing it to life. They create the haunting impression of the ‘Alla danza tedesca’ having already been playing for some time before we actually hear it, yet it is the ‘Grosse Fuge’ that perhaps inspires the most insightful playing if all, with vibrato kept to an intonation-clarifyring minimum and passages of dotted-rhythm thrusting delivered with a rapier-like precision, offet by oases of profound calm.

***** PERFORMANCE
***** RECORDING

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