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Quatuor Danel at the Aspect Chamber Music concert, 6 October 2023
Quatuor Danel (photo credit: Oren Hope)

Concert Review: Quatuor Danel – “Genius in the Making,” String Quartets by Schubert and Debussy

Finding common themes to create dialogue among disparate composers and eras is what the Aspect Chamber Music series is all about. “Genius in the Making” juxtaposed two distinctive composers, Franz Schubert and Claude Debussy, each on the cusp of greatness.

Genius in the Making: The Adolescent Schubert

Schubert wrote his String Quartet No. 10 in Eb Major in 1813 at age 16, and it shows his rapidly developing mastery. The four dynamic musicians of Quatuor Danel revealed this right away in the first movement, applying delicate dynamics to convey a fine lyrical sense. Schubert, as the venerable Misha Donat pointed out in his brief accompanying lecture, was “the first great composer for whom songs are of central importance,” and the quartet indeed uncovered a songlike cadence in this movement, its exciting sixteenth-note triplets notwithstanding.

(Quatuor Danel’s cellist Yovan Markovitch reflected on the program in our recent preview.)

The captivating Scherzo zipped by like a merry jest, softened by a slower Trio section. As for the Adagio, the players gave it an unusually capacious sense of space, finding depths of sadness the adolescent Schubert was already exploring despite his youth. More speedy triplets, surely challenging for the violist and second violinist, drove the celebratory finale.

Franz Schubert
Franz Schubert in a painting by Wilhelm August Rieder

Wisely, before moving on to the modernism of Debussy, the musicians followed the No. 10 with Schubert’s “Quartettsatz” in C minor. The first and only completed movement of an unfinished string quartet from a much more mature stage of Schubert’s career, it displays far greater musical-emotional density and harmonic – even Beethovenian – adventurousness. Here Quatuor Danel showed a sophisticated feel for the power and complexity of the mature Schubert. In particular, the piece showcased the marvelous touch of Marc Danel, the highly animated first violinist.

Debussy: A New Universe of Music

The prolific Schubert died when he was just 31. Debussy was just that age when, 80 years after Schubert composed his No. 10, the French composer wrote his first and only string quartet. But Debussy was just emerging into his age of exploration and innovation. The String Quartet in G minor is, Donat contended, Debussy’s “first characteristic work,” in which “colors are as important as themes.”

While the piece looks both back and ahead, it finds the composer plunging into a universe of new sounds and signs. Beginning with the first movement, marked “Animé et très décidé,” Quatuor Danel showed their true colors as exciting interpreters of Debussy’s “colors” and a vigorous conduit for the creativity and greatness of this early modern music.

The second movement is a crowd-pleaser that still feels daring, with its innovative techniques and structural originality. The musicians played it brilliantly. The impressionistic third (“Andantino, doucement expressif”) boasted exquisitely colored viola and cello melodies, and the thrillingly delivered finale was a fascinating trip through Debussy’s extravagant imagination.

The quartet played an encore, Mieczysław Weinberg’s “Improvisation and Romance,” that you can find on a YouTube channel called “Obscure Soviet & Post-Soviet Classical Music.” But this early-20th-century composer is coming back into fashion. In fact Quatuor Danel has made a close study of Weinberg’s ouevre, recording the first full cycle of his 17 string quartets as well as performing the first full live cycle. (As cellist Yovan Markovitch joked after the concert, Quatuor Danel had just performed another full cycle: of Debussy’s string quartets, which number precisely one.)

The “Improvisation and Romance” is not from a string quartet but a separate, independent and quite lovely piece that worked as a nightcap and also might have introduced some audience members to Weinberg, of whose “rediscovery” Quatuor Danel has been an important part.

Next up in the Aspect series is the Zemlinsky Quartet on October 26. The whole season’s schedule is online too. And if you’re intrigued by the music of Mieczysław Weinberg, Quatuor Danel is playing his String Quartet No. 16 at upcoming concerts in Europe, North American and beyond.

About Jon Sobel

Jon Sobel is Publisher and Executive Editor of Blogcritics as well as lead editor of the Culture & Society section. As a writer he contributes most often to Music, where he covers classical music (old and new) and other genres, and Culture, where he reviews NYC theater. Through Oren Hope Marketing and Copywriting at you can hire him to write or edit whatever marketing or journalistic materials your heart desires. Jon also writes the blog Park Odyssey at where he is on a mission to visit every park in New York City. He has also been a part-time working musician, including as lead singer, songwriter, and bass player for Whisperado.

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