The Heath Quartet : review from The Worthing Herald

The Heath String Quartet at The Dome Concert Hall, Brighton, Sunday 6th November 2011

JANACEK’S Kreutzer Sonata String Quartet ensured that the Coffee Concert series made a dramatic debut at Brighton’s Dome on Sunday morning. Not only did the whole audience get to be on stage with musicians but the music shattered any notions that chamber music is only a hallowed world of refined spiritual or high-end intellect art from of 18th or 19th century court halls.

True, The Heath Quartet, after playing the disturbingly volatile Janacek, ensured no subsequent Sunday afternoon naps became nightmares by administering an antidote — in form of one of the staple favourites, Haydn (the Andante from his Opus 33 No 1 quartet). But after the familiar, divine, sublime territory of Schubert which opened this programme, the Dome had been shuddering to the vehemence of Leos Janacek recognising and responding to just his kind of story.

The Kreutzer Sonata tells a tale. Or at least is intended to evoke for the listener the Leon Tolstoy novella of the same name which was inspired by Beethoven’s original Kreutzer Sonata for violin and piano. In short, a wife constantly rehearsing that piece with a very friendly violinist, and thus escaping from her unhappiness until her jealous husband’s discovery and resort to a dagger, let Tolstoy unleash in Janacek passionate sympathy, particularly for the woman.

Janacek thrived on musical inspiration from his own intensely-pursued private life and his Kreutzer Sonata Quartet of 1928 extended the scope of the string quartet medium and expression. All four instruments have their roles of vivid depiction and observation, with chilling some effects. The music broods through the gathering crisis but as well as of the female side there seems to be evocation of the husband’s own tender feelings alongside his anguished and finally violent ones.

Attacking the music, with second fiddler Cerys Jones’ jabbing bow fraying its horsehair, the players were now many miles beyond an opening interpretation of Schubert’s great A minor Quartet that for the first three movements was like a rich nocturne in atmosphere.

For all its disquiet, all its melancholy, and that recurrent ‘Death and the Maiden’ sensation in Schubert that the most intense pain can come from the softest and soothing of paintbrushes, this could have been ideal music to awake us in bed on a dark, gloomy Sunday morning near the winter solstice.

Lead violinist Oliver Heath’s yearning melody established an interpretation of tender restraint and there were three movements of essentially soft music only fleetingly disturbed by cries of fear or despair — before the sun threw wide the curtains in the infectiously rhythmical finale that would have us dancing out of bed towards the breakfast room.

Violist Gary Pomeroy and cellist Chris Murray frequently smile to each other during ensemble moments in harness, and none of the audience was, I’d guess more than 20 feet from the action. The Dome stage became the auditorium. Extended forward removing three rows of stalls, it accommodated 200 seats on all four sides of the quartet’s square rostrum.

Afterwards, up in the Mezzanine, the players met the audience over drinks and cake, which brought a further logical dimension to the intimacy and communal feeling of the whole chamber music listening experience.

While the Heath head towards their next London date at The Wigmore Hall, the Coffee Concert series reverts next month to The Corn Exchange, again seating in the round, as surely ideal — nay, essential — for this kind of music. The popular and rightly lauded young Elias Quartet visit on December 18 (11am) with JS Bach’s The Art of Fugue, then late Beethoven, his Opus 130 in Bb with the Grosse Fugue.

Richard Amey of the Worthing Herald

reprinted with permission