Bach: Fugue in E flat major, BWV 876 (arr Mozart); Shostakovich: String Quartet No 15 in E flat minor, Op 144; Beethoven: String Quartet No 12 in E flat major, Op 127

Reviewed on Wed 07 Nov, 2018

In Beethoven's Op 127 the tone is ascetic, restrained, tapered, and held as if on the edge of a breath, though maybe the centre of the scherzo is a little short on humour, the finale rather gentler than it might otherwise be.

I once asked the leader of a distinguished string quartet whether the group’s performances of Beethoven’s Op 130 Quartet altered according to whether they used the Grosse Fuge, or the briefer, less demanding Allegro rewrite as a finale. His answer was an unequivocal yes – it was like playing two different works. Similarly, in this context, would the Danish String Quartet’s performance of Beethoven’s Op 127 be significantly different to the one under review if it was given either on its own or as part of a Beethoven, or even a ‘late’ Beethoven, cycle? Here, the tone is ascetic, restrained, tapered, and held as if on the edge of a breath, though maybe the centre of the scherzo is a little short on humour, the finale rather gentler than it might otherwise be. But in general the playing and interpretation do Beethoven proud. The key-related Bach-Mozart Fugue and Shostakovich's 15th Quartet (1974) come off equally well, the latter having been described elsewhere as ‘an introspective meditation on mortality’. Beethoven’s Quartet on the other hand is a meditation on life (and not always that introspective), and while the present programming context will be stimulating for a handful of visits, thereafter the performances will need to stand-alone among their various rivals. They should do well. Annotations for the present release, which is the first in a series called ‘Prism’ (‘late’ Beethoven plus a contemporary work), are wonderfully insightful. A bold and satisfying release.
–Rob Cowan