Dennis Rooney heard the foursome perform at Washington Irving High School on 11 May 2019

Founded in Brussels in 1991, Quatuor Danel displayed outstanding tonal elegance and fluency of phrasing in a programme of ‘Quartets nos.6’ by Beethoven and two Russians – Shostakovich and the Polish-born Mieczysław Weinberg – presented by the People’s Symphony Concerts.

The opener, Beethoven’s Quartet in B flat major op.18 no.6, had a fleetness and nuanced attention to balance and dynamics that clarified the textures pleasingly. When the second subject of the opening Allegro con brio was heard, it was only slightly eased in tempo and was entirely without sentimentality or underlining. The exposition repeat was omitted, perhaps due to the length of the rest of the programme. ‘La Malinconia’ was beautifully proportioned, and well-judged tempo relationships were a particular virtue throughout.

Shostakovich’s Sixth Quartet was written in August 1956 and intended by the composer to mark his 50th birthday. The third of its four movements, a passacaglia introduced by the cello, is more serious in mien than the other three, which explore the usual contrasts between faux-naive cheerfulness and occasional melancholy. The Danel players’ 2005 recording of all 15 quartets is currently available on Alpha, and their performance was a fluent testament to long experience and stylistic command.

They have also recorded, with equal success for CPO, all 17 quartets of Weinberg, Shostakovich’s younger contemporary and close friend. In fact, in 2007 they played the first performance of this 1946 score, which remained unpublished until 1979. It proved a massive work whose six movements and quasi-orchestral textures clearly resemble a late Beethoven quartet. Pizzicatos were deftly threaded in and out of strongly rhythmic and dense textures, as was a falling 4th and rising arpeggio motto theme.