The Heath Quartet’s lush, integrated sound in the opening chords of Tchaikovsky’s optimistic String Quartet No 1 in D, Op. 11, sets the tone for this disc – the English ensemble’s debut on Harmonia Mundi.Written for an all-Tchaikovsky concert intended to bolster the young composer’s reputation, the First Quartet is bright. The players trace sensitive arcs with muted strings in the delicate, folk-inspired second movement while the Scherzo hums with energy, the quartet producing a full, vibrant sound before the joyous romp of the quartet’s finale.
From Tchaikovsky’s first (full-length) quartet, The Heath Quartet takes us to his last, composed only five years later. The Quartet No 3 in E Flat Minor, Op. 30, is darker and more nuanced than the First, composed in response to the death of violinist Ferdinand Laub. It opens with a melancholy Allegro Sostenuto that the Heath Quartet swells with passion, infusing the weighty 15-minute movement with moments of fragility and power. The funereal third movement maintains a pulsing intensity, the quartet driving forward rather than letting the music bog down in tragedy. The players bring out the ambiguities of the finale’s determined brightness, quiet pizzicatos before the final coda, a reminder of sorrow.
The recording quality is excellent, revealing the polished sounds of the instrumentalists with vivid, three-dimensional clarity. In fine performances, the Heath Quartet embraces the passion and delicacy of these works with finesse and subtlety.