Concert Review

Quatuor Danel playing Beethoven, Vainberg, Shostakovich at Conway Hall, London: South Place Sunday Concerts - Concert 2842, 16th concert of the 109th season, 30 January 2000 at 6.30 p.m.

The South Place Sunday Concerts have continued for over 108 years, surely a unique achievement? Since 1929 they have taken place from October to May. A loyal audience assembles early evening every Sunday, and the hall often fills completely (especially for string quartets) with informed chamber music lovers, many of them armed with miniature scores. Conway Hall is renowned for its excellent acoustics, so the visiting groups, often of international repute, are heard under ideal conditions. I have enjoyed going for 50 years.

The series is promoted now by a charitable organisation, The London Chamber Music Society, and the organisers show selfless dedication and take no remuneration. The continuity has been astonishing. The Director of Music, Lionel Elton, usually gives a short platform introduction to the concert. On this occasion he reported the death of one of his predecessors at 94, and told us that there had only been a total of four 'fixers' for the concerts since their inception!

The Quatuor Danel, formed in 1991 and considered one of France's leading string quartets, have often been heard at Wigmore Hall and were the resident quartet at Aldeburgh. They display superb sophistication and finesse, almost too refined for Beethoven's Op 18 No 1, some might feel. Ensemble was faultless, tone smooth, never a rough sound to disturb the immaculate surface. No such doubts in Shostakovich's Quartet no 3, given with wide dynamic range and vehemence when required. Their perfectly judged precision and delivery of Shostakovich's characteristic irony was breathtaking, and left the audience astonished and exhilarated at the end.

Before this, a novelty by Moshe Vainberg (1919-96) a Russian-Jewish composer admired by Shostakovich, who wrote a supportive letter which may have helped towards his eventual release from imprisonment after Stalin's death, and dedicated his Quartet No.10 to Vainberg. Previously a successful concert pianist, Vainberg emerged broken in health and spent his remaining years composing prolifically. We heard the string quartet No. 7 of 1957, which was in a Shostakovich-like idiom, but warmer and without the master's asperity. Not all that memorable, but thoroughly worth hearing. Vainberg is well represented in the CD catalogue, and Rostropovich includes his cello concerto in the fascinating EMI boxed set Rostropovich The Russian Years [EMI Classics 7243 5 72016 2 9 Crotchet]. There is also a newly released CD of three of his chamber symphonies, Op 145, 151 & 153 Claves CD 50-9811, well worth exploring. [CD cov pict]

The Quatuor Danel is represented in our catalogue only by three Gounod quartets [Auvidis V4798] - there's a rarity to explore which hasn't crossed the Channel into UK consciousness!

Peter Grahame Woolf

See also reviewof Vanbrugh Quartet

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