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Quatuor Danel lives up to its reputation of being excellent advocates for the heavier fare as they perform string quartet contributions from contemporary British composers with vibrating intensity.

In the 50’s, Professor Richard Hall was the center of a downright avantgardistic group of musicians at Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, predominantly composers, who had a lasting influence on British music history of the second half in the 20 th century – like Harrison Birtwistle, Peter Maxwell Davies, Alexander Goehr or John Ogdon. Today one could possibly talk about a rebirth of the Manchester-school around John Casken and Philip Grange, Professors of composition at the university. This CD complements string quartets by these two composers with compositions by Richard Whalley and Camden Reeves, both teach composition at the university.

The Quatuor Danel is not really known for academic music making, and the four composers mentioned are far from such. The quartet presents Camden Reeves’ (b.1974) first two string quartets, the single movement of ‘Fireworks Physonect Siphonophore’ (2009) and the three movements of ‘Dactylozooid Complex’ (2011). Both pieces refer to Jellyfish or dactylozooids, fascinating and evasive creatures. Their multiple forms are being explored in both compositions in quite similar fashion; the second quartet exceeds the first one significantly in respect to depth and technical diversity. The first piece was written for Quatuor Danel, as was Richard Whalley’s (b.1974) ‘Interlocking Melodies’ (2007), an Homage to Witold Lutoslawski. Here the compositional account is more linear compared to Reeves’ two quartets and provides an interesting contrast as such.

John Casken’s (b.1949) ‘Choses en moi’ was written in 2003 for the Lindsay String Quartet. The piece is named after a piano cycle by Serge Prokofiev. The intensity of this composition, its energy as well as melodic aspects turns it into a special treasure on this CD. The most extensive piece on the CD is Philip Grange’s (b.1956) ‘Ghosts of Great Violence’ (2012) in four movements, which is inspired by visits to the battle fields of world war one along the Somme. Once again Quatuor Danel performs the world premiere of this complex piece, which far exceeds describing the ghosts of the dead from world war one, rather it includes rich musical variations and among others also includes the BACH-motive. Those references are more subtle as compared to some more famous British contemporaries and thus more convincing. Of course the music is very demanding (for audience and performers alike), but this is an important enrichment of repertoire, which should break the all-so narrow canon of listened to or played pieces.

An Ensemble like Quatuor Danel (Marc Danel, Gilles Millet, Vlad Bogdanas und Guy Danel), which is subscribed to ‘heavy fare’ does of course not have difficulties with this challenging music, listening to it repeatedly is a very worthwhile exercise. We have to thank the label Metier for publishing a CD of works which may not be attractive to a wide audience. The recording is immaculate, the booklet texts are authoritative, contributed by the composers themselves (unfortunately only in English) – only the year of Grange’s composition is not stated. All in all, highly recommended.

—Jürgen Schaarwächter, translated by Wolfgang Ziegler