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Saturday 12 January 2008

Heath String Quartet

Oliver Heath, Rebecca Eves - violins
Gary Pomeroy - viola
Christopher Murray - '


The Heath Quartet's reputation as one of Britain’s most exciting and innovative young ensembles has grown steadily since their formation in 2002. Their exceptionally committed and vibrant playing has been recognised through successes in The Royal Overseas League Competition, The Terence Weil Memorial Prize and the Nossek and Hirsh Prizes. In 2005 they were selected from amongst the country’s most outstanding young chamber groups to win the prestigious Philharmonia Orchestra/Martin Musical Scholarship Fund Ensemble Award. A highly successful debut recital in The Purcell Room soon followed. In 2006 the Royal Northern College of Music awarded the quartet the Sir John Barbirolli Memorial Prize for Chamber Music.

As a group they believe in presenting unfamiliar works to new audiences, and their flair for communication brings new energy to established masterpieces. Actively enthusiastic about performing contemporary music, they have collaborated with Louis Andreissen on his first quartet, 'Facing Death', and with Hans Abrahamsen on his second quartet - an event broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 from The Royal Albert Hall as a part of the BBC Proms. In 2006 they joined forces with the country’s leading contemporary music group Psappha in the European premiere of Steve Mackie’s “Gaggle and Flock” for string octet.
Throughout the 2006/07 season the quartet will be appearing under the auspices of the Countess of Munster Recital Scheme and the Making Music Concert Promoters Society, as well as undertaking two tours of Scotland for the Tunnell Trust. They will also return to The Purcell Room for a performance in the Park Lane Group Young Artist Series. They are currently MBF Young Artists in Residence at the Lake District Summer Music Festival.

During their career together The Heath Quartet has enjoyed the mentorship of many eminent musicians. Their main inspiration comes from the years they spent studying with Dr. Christopher Rowland. Other regular tutors have included members of the Takacs, Alban Berg, Smetana, La Salle, Endellion and Lindsay Quartets.


HAYDN Quartet op.76 no.5

MARTINU Quartet no.2

BEETHOVEN String Quartet in A Minor op.132


Haydn String Quartet in D major, op.76 no.5

Largo (Cantabile e mesto)
Menuetto (Allegro)
Finale (Presto)

Of all Haydn's eighty-three Quartets, the set of six Quartets op.76 are amongst his best known and written when the composer was sixty five years old. By this time, he had already completed all his famous symphonies, and it was the period of many of his late choral works such as 'The Creation'. Haydn was living in Vienna at this time, and the op.76 quartets were composed for a Viennese nobleman called Count Joseph Erdödy, who had recently married, and with whom Haydn had been friendly for many years.

The first movement of Quartet no.5 begins with a simple theme on the first violin which forms the basis for a set of variations to be developed later by the other instruments:

The whole movement is full of energy and panache.

The slow second movement is in the difficult key of F major. The difficulties arise as this key restricts the players' use of their open strings. However, this is a lyrical movement of great charm. Again, the main melody starts with the first violin - playing this time in a sad, singing style (cantabile e mesto):

Most of the prominent elements of this beautiful movement are played by the first violin, although as the movement progresses there is considerable interplay between all the instruments.

The Minuet and Trio is especially interesting due to its cross-rhythms and buoyancy. The Trio section (played before the Minuet is repeated) gives unusual prominence to the cello, whose exciting quaver adventures are sensitively accompanied by the other strings:

The last movement (Finale) is a fast and boisterous one. At its heart is a delightful peasant dance introduced on the first violin a few bars after the opening:
The excitement grows throughout this movement as all the instruments play with elements of this theme. After the first violin makes a thrilling climb high up onto his top string, this musical chase ends with a suitably dramatic and satisfying conclusion.

Martinu String Quartet no.2

Moderato - Andante - Allegro Vivace

This Quartet, written in Paris in 1925, displays vividly the often strange yet exciting sound world of Bohuslav Martin?. Prior to its composition he had been studying with the French composer Roussel, and some evidence of the mentor's influence can be found here. But Martin?'s style is always highly individual and difficult to put into a specific stylistic category.

In the first movement, a quiet opening (in which several introductory musical ideas are shared between the instruments) leads quickly to the main boisterous, folk-influenced melody developed by all the strings. A second, more lyrical, section (with elements of the earlier introduction evident) leads on to an exciting recapitulation of the initial material, and the movement ends with a brilliant flourish.

The second movement (Andante) begins with a hushed, even mysterious, introduction which leads to a second section of forceful power announced with some highly dissonant chords. But this tight and tense movement nevertheless contains some beautiful and lyrical passages and ends with the same reflective quiet with which it began.

The third movement begins playfully with strong dance-like elements. At a half-way point, a powerful solo violin cadenza heralds a return of the principal dance theme. Further development of these ideas leads eventually to a thrilling coda of amazing virtuosity.

Beethoven String Quartet in A minor op. 132

Assai sostenuto, leading to Allegro
Allegro ma non tanto
Molto adagio, alternating with Andante
Alla marcia, assai vivace, leading to....
Allegro appassionato

The last six string quartets of Beethoven were the final works he wrote before he died. For musicians and audiences alike they have always been challenging - both technically and emotionally. Beethoven kept a notebook in which he drafted many musical ideas, and it is clear that the A minor Quartet (op.132), the Bb Quartet (op.130) and the 'Grosse Fuge' Quartet (op.133), were all conceived at the same time.

The work we hear tonight was composed in 1825 on commission from Prince Nikolai Golitsin, an aristocrat from St Petersburg and was constantly interrupted by the composer's illness.

In the first movement, the opening chords (played very softly) introduce the main Allegro section - an exciting interplay of musical motifs led principally by the first violin. The central 'development' section in the movement is a long one which leads eventually to an embellished recapitulation of all the earlier musical ideas.

The light-hearted second movement is in the character of a Scherzo - being in ¾ time throughout. Especially notice the middle section, where Beethoven employs a long drone-like effect on the strings - not unlike bagpipes!

The third movement is characterised by the headings to each section, where the composer includes text giving us a clue to possible musical interpretation. Above the soft chorale-like opening, Beethoven wrote: "A Convalescent's Sacred Song of Thanksgiving to the Godhead" - presumably alluding to his recent ill health. Above the following Andante section, the composer wrote: "Feelings of New Strength" - accompanied here by bars of joyous trilling on the violin. The last section (a final variation and development of the chorale theme) is marked: "With inmost feelings" - after which this fascinating movement ends sublimely.

The solemnity of the previous movement is swept away completely by the opening cheerful dotted rhythms at the start of this two-part fourth movement. In the second part, a short accompanied violin recitative, ending with a fast scale passage, leads us straight into the fifth movement - Allegro Appassionato. From study of Beethoven's sketches, some experts have suggested that the main theme of this final movement may possibly have been originally intended for inclusion in his Ninth Symphony.

Towards the end of this wonderful work, and after further glorious interplay between all the instruments, the quartet (which started in the rather serious key of A minor) ends decisively and triumphantly in the uplifting key of A major!

Articles and Notes compiled by Peter Case
for South Holland Concerts ©2008

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