Seldom can this youthful masterpiece have seemed more packed with portents of La Mer than in this keenly articulated performance, where the crash of waves sounded never far distant and the beauty of the slow movement took on the semblance of a moonlit nocturne.

For the second of the season’s New Town Concerts, the players (all products of Manchester’s Royal Northern College of Music) sat conspicuously close together, each intent upon what the others were doing and on the strains, in particular, issuing from the cello.

It was a performance exceptional in its perception, alive to every detail of a work at one time rather underrated but breathing from start to finish the Frenchness of French music.

Earlier, the Englishness of English music had been no less strikingly evoked in an account of Tippett’s Quartet No 2 where the composer’s predilection for the rhythms of Tudor madrigals kept the work in a turmoil of syncopation.

When this, towards the end, melted into romantic sweetness, the effect was magical. In a programme where contrast mattered more than continuity, Beethoven may not have looked like the obvious starting point. But his connection with Tippett – who adored him – was audible, making the F major Quartet, Op 18, No 1, the most perfect of preludes to a concert assembled and performed with notable care.

Star rating: ****