Edinburgh Festival Fringe (4) Fresh, energetic and explosive playing from the Heath Quartet

United KingdomUnited Kingdom  The Beethoven Concert Series at Greyfriars Kirk (4): The Heath Quartet, Greyfriars Kirk, 19.08.2011 (SRT)

String Quartet Op. 18, No. 4 in C minor
String Quartet Op. 59, No. 3 in C

This was the first chance I’d had to get along to the second half of Greyfriars’ Beethoven series. While Llŷr Williams plays all the Beethoven sonatas at 5:45pm, the Heath Quartet are making their way through the complete string quartets at 10:30pm. However, while Williams is in many ways a known quantity, bringing a wealth of experience and insight into his readings of the sonatas, the young guns of the Heath Quartet bring boundless, almost visceral energy to the quartets.

Beethoven’s quartets, which in some hands can sound like heavy “old man’s music”, here explode off the page, feeling as fresh and energetic as if they had just had a steam clean. This is in no way to undermine the Heath Quartet’s artistry, however, which is plain for all to hear. They tap into the symphonic potential of these works, finding it in even the C minor quartet, traditionally seen as the weakest of the series. The pulsating energy of the first movement carried an undertone of menace and they brought a lightness of touch to a slow movement which can sound twee. If Beethoven’s finale sounds at times like note-spinning, then we could be sure that the notes were being very well spun.

The third “Razumovsky” quartet, on the other hand, is a work of real stature which was given a reading of intelligence and energetic beauty. They didn’t shirk the uncomfortable suspensions of the introduction and the main Allegro blazed a trail of sunlight as it went, busy grandeur exuding from every phrase. They touched a deep vein of melancholy in the slow movement and produced a hair-raising final fugue, exhilarating in its attack. Unsure of what to expect, I had my expectations blown away by a group of extraordinarily talented young musicians who work brilliantly as a team. This was quartet playing of the highest order.

Greyfriars’ Beethoven cycle runs until Friday 26th August. Tickets can be booked at www.edfringe.com or are available at the door.

Simon Thompson