On the second day of the West Cork Chamber Music Festival, with five concerts and four masterclasses taking place, it was hard to stroll around the seaside town of Bantry without hearing the dulcet strains of French horns, pianos and all manner of stringed instruments. It was a delectable pleasure to have two out of three of the groups from the previous evening performing again in the main concert tonight in Bantry House: the award-winning Dudok Quartet Amsterdam and the ever-wonderful Quatuor Danel. These were joined by the young Polish group Apollon Musagète Quartet, making the evening an exciting treat.

Quatuor Danel © Ant Clausen
Quatuor Danel
© Ant Clausen

Before the Dudok Quartet set about Mozart’s glorious Quartet in G major, K387, their cellist David Faber gave a useful introduction to the fugal complexities of the final movement. This was a life-affirming account of K387 with each member of the Dudok Quartet playing with character and wit. The opening movement had all the interest of an intimate chat among friends, as the busy lines passed successively from instrument to instrument.

There was a comical exaggeration to the accents of the Minuet, while the Dudok Quartet imbued the Trio with an ironic gravity before coaxing the music back to the minuet. There was also an expressive intensity to the Andante Cantabile as the quartet spun out the delicate melodic web, first violinist Judith Van Driel putting her soul into every note of her melody. The finale was wonderfully effervescent as the first fugue shimmered beautifully, while in the second fugue they brought out fully its rambunctious character.

Composer Andrzej Panufnik was a key figure in the post-war Polish music scene until he escaped to England to avoid the repressive Soviet system. As his daughter Roxanna Panufnik explains in the programme notes this “first quartet is dominated by his favourite number three. The three movements… are all tightly constructed upon a single triad.”

Here the Apollon Musagète Quartet really captured the distinct soundscapes of all three movements, “ Prelude”, “Transformations” and “Postlude”. The finely graded dynamics and characters of the opening “Prelude” were successfully explored, from the strident martellato sound of the first violin (Paweł Zalejski) to the whispered delicacy of the cello (Piotr Skweres).

In “Transformations” the minute control of dynamics was impressively achieved: the opening crescendo became a thing of tension, excitement and wonder. The quartet evoked a post-apocalyptic hush at first, which turned gradually into a terrifying atmosphere with the eeriest flautando trills and banshee cry of a melody. The “Postlude” started with disjointed murmuring, before leading onto a lively, rhythmically complex discussion that finished in unison.

The highlight of the concert came in the second half with the Quatuor Danel giving an electrifying performance of Beethoven’s “Razumovsky” Op. 59 no. 2 in E minor. The excitement was palpable from the first note – this was an interpretation that took you by the lapels and forced you to hear this music afresh. The first movement rippled with energy as the Quatuor Danel rejoiced in the shocking dissonances. Producing a satisfyingly meaty Beethovenian sound in the livelier moments, they switched to a heartfelt lyricism when needed.

The Molto Adagio was heartwarmingly tender as the members of the quartet gently answered one another’s lines. Once again, like the previous night, the fine gradation of dynamics was so effective whether highlighting the surprise of the Neapolitan chord or in the tremendous crescendo to the climax.

Whimsical and fleeting, the third movement Allegretto hurried along while the Trio was full of fugal joie de vivre. It was rhythmic precision that drove forward the final movement. Quatuor Danel revelled in the delightful harmonic tension of the C major/E minor duality of this movement making this performance a real tour de force.