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Prism III (Danish String Quartet)

The Danish String Quartet’s Prism series is building into an exceptionally rewarding venture. As in the previous volumes, this third instalment partners a late Beethoven quartet (the C sharp minor) with a related Bach fugue and a later quartet that might be regarded as a kindred spirit. In this case, Bartók’s First Quartet provides a stimulating evolution from Beethoven’s fugal writing and penchant for variations, creating a juxtaposition that illuminates both works.

The remarkable precision of the Danish is apparent throughout, moving as one organism whether in the wilder moments of Bartók’s final movement or the slow-moving counterpoint that opens the Beethoven. The Danish bring a concentrated introspection to both opening movements along with a suitably disconcerting sense of the abstruse. As Beethoven’s fugue works itself out, there are some passages where a little more shape would be welcome; and the pacing of the central movement’s variations is not always convincing. These are minor quibbles, though, in performances that are generally packed full of character. The shifts between shrouded mystery and full-throated outbursts in the Allegretto of the Bartók are gripping, while the more extrovert moments of the Beethoven find motifs are passed between the instruments with the flair and relish of expert jugglers. Bach’s fugue, in the same key that Beethoven’s quartet opens in, feels like an inevitable homecoming in a stimulating and compelling disc.

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