HEATH QUARTET TO THE RESCUE
It says a lot about the healthy state of quartet playing in this country, that when the German quartet “Vision” had to cancel their engagement to play in the Assembly Room at short notice, a replacement was found in the excellent Heath Quartet based in the UK.
The Heath played a difficult programme which included Ligeti’s string quartet No.2 to replace his quartet No.1 which the Vision Quartet were due to play. This complex work was performed with astonishing accuracy and vitality by the Heath; and they captivated the audience with their ensemble rapport and virtuosity, despite the huge demands that Ligeti makes on the listener’s concentration and comprehension. Composed 50 years ago, it might well have been written yesterday by an avant-garde extremist.
It is difficult to imagine what reception the audience gave to the first performances of the other two works in the programme. Haydn’s early string quartet Op.20 No.4 [ composed in the 1770’s] was a ground-breaking work from a man who “invented” the string quartet in its present form. His patron Prince Esterhazy may well have been surprised by the prominent role of the cellist, and the inclusion of farmyard noises in the first movement. The Heath Quartet played with zeal and virtuosity, though their interpretation required more subtlety than the exaggerated dynamic contrasts of subito fortes. and senza vibrati of some passages. For example, the Alla Zingarese Minuet needed more emphasis on syncopation and the use of plangent open strings, to create the Hungarian folk-fiddling effect.
Beethoven’s groundbreaking Op.127 quartet really did surprise even the musical elite of Vienna at its first performance in the 1820’s. Schuppanzigh, the leader of Beethoven’s favourite quartet, asked him why he was writing music that was almost impossible to play and difficult to understand. Beethoven replied “Do you believe that I think about your miserable fiddle, when the muse strikes me”. The Heath Quartet had no such problems and gave a flawless performance of this extraordinary work. Even to our ears, it grapples with dissonance and cross rhythms, with multiple key changes; but with the clarity of interpretation and ensemble by the Heath Quartet, the audience enjoyed a wonderful conclusion to a vivid and memorable concert.