Jan 20 2012 Perthshire Advertiser Friday
AS its first guests for the New Year, Perth Chamber Music had one of Britain’s foremost string quartets: The Heath Quartet.
The quartet played a programme of Haydn, Janacek and Beethoven with polished technique and emotional rightness in St Ninian’s Cathedral.
Haydn’s seldom played Op.33 No.1 was revealed as a masterpiece. The Heath’s intense tone caught the atmosphere, and the cathedral’s acoustic, just right. Calling it a Scherzo justified linking the vigorous minuet second movement forward to Beethoven and continued the tension of the work. A total change: the Trio section was a finely spun oasis of peace. Building on from the Trio, the Andante showed leader Oliver Heath’s lyrical tone, as continued by Christopher Murray’s cello, in a movement which was simply beautiful. Drama returned in the Presto with dazzling playing and humour.
The Quartet plunged into the lacerating emotions of Janacek’s Quartet No.2 Intimate Letters, sul ponticello effects coming off startlingly and chillingly. As favoured by Janacek, Gary Pomeroy’s viola had tremendous impact. Their approach to the second movement was more ecstatic and lyrical than some giving good contrast to the wild central part. Their emotional sensitivity was further shown in the sad start of the third movement leading to the dramatic outburst and then a despairing recall of the start. Conventionally happier, the fourth movement then became more anguished, then subsided, only to be broken by the two horrible scrubbing episodes, intended as some of the nastiest sounds in quartet writing. After that a manic return to the opening brought this deeply felt performance to a close.
In Beethoven’s Quartet in E Flat Op.74 Harp, the nicknamed pizzicato passages were well integrated and the sotto voce start to the development soon contrasted with a vigorous work out. If the Haydn slow movement had been heavenly, so was the truly inspired, time-stopping playing in Beethoven’s Adagio, the most impressive part of an exceptional evening. Sometimes Beethoven’s Presto third movement is treated too vehemently, but here there was no mistaking the titanic forces in all their elegance. Their speed and ensemble in the Trio was breathtaking. The warm-hearted variations of the finale suited them well. Gary Pomeroy’s viola had an outstanding solo before the fugato. They found humour, too, before the final furious fiddling of the end.
Mendelssohn’s Canzonetta from his Quartet in E Flat Op.12 was their encore. Given with perfect style and a light touch it ended with a magical fade, receiving re-doubled applause from the appreciative audience.