Jean-Efflam Bavouzet’s Debussy Series at Wigmore Hall with Quatuor Danel

String Quartet in G minor, Op.10
Danse sacrée et danse profane

Piano Quintet in F minor

Quatuor Danel [Marc Danel, Gilles Millet (violins), Vlad Bogdanas (viola; Yovan Markovitch, cello, Leon Bosch (double bass)]

Jean-Efflam Bavouzet (piano)

Reviewed by: Peter Reed

Reviewed: 23 October, 2021
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

If ever there was a sharper clash of sensibility, it was in this Debussy and César Franck recital as part of Jean-Efflam Bavouzet’s Debussy series. It was also my first live experience of the Quatuor Danel, the French group that has been making waves in the Russian repertoire. Here they were playing the Debussy Quartet, and their performance was nothing short of a revelation. It’s a work that confidently anticipates masterpieces such as La mer and Pelléas et Mélisande, and the Danel kept us on a knife-edge between its sheer viscerality – a quality you don’t automatically associate with Debussy – and a mesmerising refinement in music linked together by an idée fixe that steals upon you unawares rather than imposing itself explicitly.

Oddly, the Danel’s generous sound flattered Debussy’s impulsive web of allusion and atmosphere, and the players’ febrile style delivered such a wealth of connections, and with such panache, that it was hard to process all the riches they delivered. Marc Danel’s intensely communicative and animated violin was eloquently underpinned by Yovan Markovitch’s warm fluency on the cello, Danel’s volatility balanced Gilles Milllet’s more cerebral second violin, and they all seemed to revolve around Vlad Bogdanos’s ravishing viola playing. When you hear the insouciant, liquid virtuosity of the pizzicato element of the second movement, or the melting tenderness of the Andantino, of lines fading in and out of each other with impeccably shaded colour, or of perfectly judged tension-building and its consequent relaxation, you know you are experiencing chamber playing of the highest level.

They were joined by Bavouzet and Leon Bosch for the Danse sacrée et danse profane, in a performance that conveyed the music’s nobility and ambiguity, and quietly marked the subtlety of the link between the two dances. It was, I suppose, inevitable that the version with piano (instead of the harp the piece was originally written for) sounds less distant and evanescent.

After the interval came Franck’s Piano Quintet, all five players letting their hair down in a performance that can reasonably be described as smokin’. Who would have thought that the Pater seraphicus of the organ-loft had it in him for such passion towards his composition pupil Augusta Holmès, who had form in attracting celebrity admirers? No wonder Madame Franck took against her, and the work. I’ve also read somewhere that Saint-Saëns, who played piano in the premiere, left the score in a waste-paper basket, and Franck certainly downgraded the dedication from “à mon bon ami Camille Saint-Saëns” to a neutral “à Camille Saint-Saëns”. The playing was massive, the Danel giving themselves a dose of orchestral steroids, and I’m sure I caught Bavouzet smirking as he piled into the white-hot rhetoric and steering the music ever closer to erotic overload, while the surgings of the ideas left little to the imagination. It was thrilling in its way, and in its way it also served Franck right.

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