I was gently looking forward to this concert. I know the works, especially the Ravel Quartet, and there was nothing in the programme as challenging as the Britten Quartet from the last concert. And I really like the Heath Quartet: a lovely mellow sound, instruments blending together beautifully, perfect ensemble, expressive and intelligent playing. But still I was astonished by the Ravel. It was as though I’d never listened to it properly before. Every section, every bar, of the piece was played with such intensity that time seemed to stand still. I’m still trying to work out how they achieved this magic. First there were the contrasts between exquisite tenderness and frenzied activity – and everything in between. Then there was the way they pulled the timing about, with the subtlest of rubati as they moved from one phrase to another. Above all was the quality of the sound with which they caressed us in the most seductive way. One of the strengths of the Heath is that they are four strong players and each shone. Oliver Heath as leader is delicate, warm, subtle and expressive. He leads the quartet in every bar, gesturing with his shoulders. And he allows the other players to shine when it’s their turn. Cerys Jones on second violin can, and does, soar above the others when she needs to. She can make that violin drip with emotion. She even turned a pizzicato section in the second movement into a solo. I’ve never heard Gary Pomeroy on viola play better. His muted solo at the start of the third movement was wonderful. And Christopher Murray on cello was as firm a basis for the quartet as ever while contributing some gorgeous, apparently effortless, high solos.
The concert started with Mozart’s Adagio and Fugue in C minor. It’s a late work, quite dark and complex, very different from his better known four-movement quartets. Both movements started with tremendous cello playing from Christopher Murray; in fact, for me, an amateur cellist, the cello dominated the piece to wonderful effect. Mozart wrote this version just 3 years before he died. Damn that streptococcal infection (or whatever it was that killed him)!
Tchaikovsky’s first quartet is not one of my favourites. It’s full of really good ideas but he hasn’t, for me, mastered the art of writing music as a conversation between players that’s the hallmark of great quartet writing. The first and last movements, especially, become a bit ‘orchestral’ at times. However, the Andante cantabile is up there with the greatest of slow movements, its beauty captured by the subtlest of playing. Indeed the Heath played the whole piece as though they believed in it, so perhaps it’s for me to try to believe in it too.
It’s always sad when the last concert of the season is over but this sadness was modified by the announcement by Andrew Comben of all but one of the dates for next year. The dates can be found on www.stringsattachedmusic.org.uk/prod02 .