Heath String Quartet & Robert Thompson at Wigmore Hall – Haydn & Shostakovich

String Quartet in B minor, Op.33/1
Piano Quintet in G minor, Op.57

Heath String Quartet [Oliver Heath & Rebecca Eves (violins), Gary Pomeroy (viola) & Christopher Murray (cello)]

Robert Thompson (piano)

Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood

Reviewed: 8 November, 2011
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Heath String Quartet. Photograph: www.heathquartet.comHaydn served notice of his potential to reform the string quartet with his set of six Opus 20 ‘Sun’ collection. With Opus 33 he took a still more decisive step forwards. The first daringly holds back from its key of B minor, beginning in tonal ambiguity as it wavers. Playing under the auspices of YCAT, the Heath String Quartet caught the essence of this musical quandary. Meanwhile pointers towards early Beethoven could be glimpsed in the scherzo, named as such, while the Andante felt like a Minuet with its triple-time and relatively brisk tempo. The playing was affectionate, the musicians clearly enjoying the music, and a particularly memorable moment was to be found in the slow movement with the doubling of violin and cello producing a silvery tone.

A full-bodied performance of Shostakovich’s Piano Quintet followed, the hefty unisons in the ‘Prelude’ reminding us that the composer was reaching something of a peak in his symphonic output. Running parallel to the Quintet are the Sixth, Seventh and Eighth symphonies with echoes of each. If anything the string unisons were too rich, Robert Thompson’s piano finding itself relegated in the sound-picture. Thompson also held back a little on the tempo in this opening movement, his rubato dragging its feet a little, but the ‘Fugue’ unfolded naturally.

Too many pianists bang their way through the scherzo, but Thompson shaped the theme extremely well, the big octaves ringing out without the need to play to the gallery. The ‘Intermezzo’ and ‘Finale’ were skilfully linked, the sparseness of texture between Oliver Heath and Christopher Murray nicely turned at the beginning of the former, while the latter’s rocking motion would have brought to mind a soothing berceuse were it not for the composer’s harmonic twists and turns and an impressively weighty climax.

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