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RECORD KEEPING | Heath Quartet Get Tchaikovsky Just Right With New CD Release

By John Terauds on January 17, 2017

The Heath Quartet (Photo: Sussie Ahlburg)
The Heath Quartet (Photo: Sussie Ahlburg)

CD Review: The Heath Quartet | Tchaikovsky String Quartets Nos. 1 & 3 | Harmonia Mundi

The Heath Quartet, born at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, England, are still being called young and exciting as they prepare to celebrate their 15th-anniversary this year. A new album of two string quartets by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky on the Harmonia Mundi bears out the acclaim in studio performances that capture the full emotional breadth of the music, while still maintaining balance and perspective.

Tchaikovsky’s String Quartet No. 1, Op. 11, composed in 1871, is a popular work and has been recorded often. There’s a generation-old recording by the Borodin Quartet that is pretty much the gold standard, and I’ve heard the St Lawrence String Quartet perform it live with an intensity that kept me on the edge of my seat.

The Heaths – violinists Oliver Heath and Cerys Jones, violist Gary Pomeroy and cellist Chris Murray – come close to the St Lawrences’ signature intensity, but they have a cooler temperament. What is most impressive about their interpretation is an overall sense of balance. Their ensemble playing is remarkable, from the moment the instruments tackle the opening chorale-like chords. They play as one and manage to build tension over long stretches.

The Heath Quartet | Tchaikovsky String Quartets Nos. 1 & 3 | Harmonia Mundi
The Heath Quartet | Tchaikovsky String Quartets Nos. 1 & 3 | Harmonia Mundi

The Heaths never dive into unbridled drama, but they know how to build a climax. String Quartet No. 3, Op. 30, written only five years later, seems even more intense and personal as it begins in E-flat minor. The Heaths get the message across, and left me feeling breathless by the close of the final movement. But even in this highly emotionally charged work, the Heaths are always in supreme control of each phrase and transition.

These performances are worth checking out. You can listen to samples of the performances on the Harmonia Mundi website.

The Heaths are not presenting either Tchaikovsky quartet in Toronto on Sunday afternoon, when they perform at Walter Hall for Mooredale Concerts. Instead, they are offering works by Dvorak and Bartok (which they have recorded at a live performance at Wigmore Hall). You’ll find the details here.



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