The Heath Quartet – The Third Coffee Concert 2013-2014

Brighton Dome Corn Exchange, Sunday 15 December 2013

For this concert we were back in the round in the Corn Exchange, and back to the Heath Quartet. The warmth of the welcome for them at the start of the concert showed how pleased the Brighton audience was to see them again. Was it only three years since they first played here as Quartet in Residence? Then they seemed young and extraordinarily talented. Every year since they have grown in stature. Today’s performance was stunningly good. Their ensemble is impeccable; it’s interesting that they look at each other more than most quartets. Their sense of rhythm is unwavering, their intonation spot-on. But above all is the expressiveness of their playing: lyrical and tempestuous, gentle and explosive. Beethoven often asks for a change of mood that extreme in a single phrase and the Heath can deliver it. They make no attempt to find some new interpretation in well-known works. They rely on conveying what the composer intended. Schubert in the Quartettsatz and Beethoven in the second Razumovsky were very specific about how they wanted the music played, and the Heath delivered it in spades. What  made it seem as though we were hearing the works afresh was that they brought such brio to the fast passages (and they did play them fast) and such delicacy to the slow ones. And they move between these moods seamlessly.

But for me the event of the morning was Tippett’s third quartet. Listening on disc, I had found it hard to get a handle on this work. It’s so full of skewed rhythms and skewed tunes that the listener is constantly thrown off balance. And when those already difficult passages are combined into a fugue at a furious speed, it can be confusing. This morning, live, there was no confusion. Each player brought out the sense of each passage and wove it into the fabric of the music in a way that made it all clear. Movements varied from boisterous to lyrical to folksy to sombre and back to boisterous. It’s one of the great quartets of the 20th century; at least, that’s how it felt this morning.

Andrew Polmear

(Sent from my iPad in departure lounge, Heathrow)