Soundings: Quatuor Danel captures Russian spirit in Chamber Music performance

The Virginia Gazette
Soundings column: Belgium-based Quatuor Danel captures Russian spirit in recent Williamsburg performance

The Chamber Music Society of Williamsburg presented one of its more unusual programs with Quatuor Danel, a Belgium-based string quartet, in an all-Russian program.

Quatuor Danel has an established reputation as being a leading champion of Russian music, particularly that of Dmitri Shostakovich and the less familiar Mieczyslaw Weinberg, both of whom were well represented in the Feb. 23 program in the Williamsburg Library Theatre, along with other eminent composers of the 19th and 20th centuries.

We've heard enough Russian music on this series to appreciate the maturity and skill and emotional base required to capture and relay the essence of the Russian spirit.Without doubt, Quatuor Danel (Marc Danel and Gilles Millet, violin; Vlad Bogdanas viola; Yovan Markovitch, cello) displayed abundant quantities of the qualities needed to get the job done.Chief among these qualities was a sense of blend that allowed individual and collective skills to ebb and flow as required.There was a fine combination of tenderness and brutality of emotion musically displayed that played into the emotional content of the fare which, largely, required an edgy, raw type sound.

Certainly, Quatuor Danel offered insight into the softer side of playing in its two opening works, both of which were examples of sublime musical merit — Tchaikovsky's lyrical "Andante Cantabile" from his Quartet No. 1 and Borodin's inviting "Nocturne" from Quartet No. 2, both in D Major.These perfectly and sensitively presentations wisely paved the way for the less ethereal sounding works on tap.

If one hadn't looked at the program, on hearing the bulk of the fare, you would have thought it to be all Shostakovich. In truth, the composers featured were influenced by him and you couldn't miss the sameness of devices.

It may have been too much similarity, given the evening's closing and lengthy Quartet No. 3 in F Major of Shostakovich.Nonetheless, it was instructive to hear works by the lesser known Mieczyslaw Weinberg and Boris Tishchenko, both of whose works supplied appealing listening albeit of the dark, rhythmically quirky, ominous, dancing in the face of death kind of feel, notably Weinberg's "Notturno" and "Scherzo" with its bold, aggressive statements and fast and furious nature.Tishchenko's String Quartet No. 1 continued the trend with its melancholic lines, angular dissonances, macabre march rhythms and probing thoughts, all superbly crafted by Quatuor Danel.

However, it was the Quartet No. 3 that was the evening's high point. Here he penned his concept on war and emotions surrounding artistic censor in the Soviet Union under Stalin.Known as the War Quartet, the five movements basically depict anticipation of war, war, death, and the eternal question: "why."

Considered one of the finest interpreters of Shostakovich on today's scene, Quatuor Danel approached the work with intensity that matched intent. It was a riveting performance of power, its interpretation seeming to take on a personal nature.The haunting dirge like construction of the fourth movement leading into the emotionally themed closing questioning the futility of war resulted in a so quiet you could hear a pin drop closing of an almost eerie ethereal, chilling nature.

Applause almost seemed inappropriate, except for the fact that it was a brilliant moment of heightened musical awareness that deserved the standing reception Quatuor Danel received.

Shulson can be reached at

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