Heath Quartet at The Royal Institute of Great Britain

String Quartet in G minor, Op.20/3
String Quartet No.3 in E flat minor, Op.30

Heath Quartet [Oliver Heath & Cerys Jones (violins), Gary Pomeroy (viola) and Christopher Murray (cello)]

Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood

Reviewed: 22 October, 2012
Venue: Faraday Lecture Theatre, The Royal Institute of Great Britain, Albemarle Street, London W1

The setting of the Faraday Theatre for a string-quartet concert proved ideal, both acoustically and visually. The location’s steep banks of seating around three-quarters of the stage area, makes a good concert hall, with capacity for 310 people. The concert was sponsored by Brompton’s, but it was a shame that the otherwise lavishly produced programme did not mention the individual members of the Heath Quartet, nor elaborate on the music to be played.

The Heath Quartet chose well for this hour-long early-evening recital, pairing one of Haydn’s revolutionary Opus 20 works with Tchaikovsky’s most deeply felt essay in the string-quartet idiom. The Haydn, the third of his ‘Sun’ Quartets, is extremely profound too, the slow movement a considerable utterance. The Heath members paid it utmost respect by closely observing the Poco adagio marking and the statements of Oliver Heath and Christopher Murray were beautifully played. Haydn’s wit was never far from the surface in the other three movements, with a cheeky aside or two in the first movement, and a welcome brightness in the finale. There could have been more swing in the Minuet, and the outer movements could have had more poise, but this was nonetheless an affectionate account.

Tchaikovsky’s Third String Quartet was written in memoriam to the Czech violinist and composer Ferdinand Laub. The music is shrouded in pain and grief, lost in thought and introspection. The Heath Quartet brought out these emotions in the first and third movements in particular. Heath’s melody in the dark waltz of the first movement was beautifully floated and ornamented, while the unison passages of the third one had uncomfortable premonitions of Shostakovich.

Redemption was at hand, however, for the second-movement scherzo had plenty of humour, and its principal trick – a two-note motif passed between the four instruments then back to viola and cello – was perfectly observed. The finale was jocular, but clouds briefly gathered, introspection again to the fore, before a headlong dash to the finish. It was quite an achievement for this relatively young ensemble to present Tchaikovsky’s emotions so directly as well as making a strong case for one of the composer’s finest works. Credit to the players for their impeccable tuning – 35 minutes is a long time to be playing music with six flats in the key signature!

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