Complete String Quartets
The Heath Quartet
Harmonia Mundi HMM90766162 (2CD)
"It is, as a cycle, an amazing span.with Bartók, the evolution between the quartets and also the contrast and the way that you get immersed in this world, it makes for such a satisfying experience." Oliver Heath
Heath's Bartók proves to be truly Béla
Performances of Bartók’s six quartets have tended to fall into two camps; the hard-edged modernist, exemplified by the Emerson Quartet’s 1989 recording, or the soft-grained folkloric from Eastern Europe, for which the Takács is famed. This latest recording falls not in the middle but somewhere on a tangent and could well be the ideal library reference.
The Heath Quartet’s cool, limpid sound and crystalline clarity elucidates Bartók’s contrapuntal argument while their modern vibrato-lite style, impeccable intonation and precise chord voicing makes sense of his unconventional harmonic language. Rhythms are taut as a drum but not overdriven, they seem to find the ideal tempi; always well propelled, though time is allowed for bold gestures to register. The players’ willingness to explore subtle tonal colours at the lower end of the dynamic range draws the listener in close so when they let rip in full voice the effect is thrilling. Wonderful details abound; the perfectly imitated wheeze of a harmonium in the Adagio molto of No 5 or the specific weighting
of those veiled chords at the conclusion of its Andante. As for the Sixth, they get to the very heart of a forlorn masterpiece.
This is a set to treasure. For newcomers, an ideal way in to works that are admittedly hard to get your head around; for the converted, a refreshing alternative that will have you marvelling anew at the uncompromising invention of a haunted genius. Warwick Arnold