The Heath Quartet perform Tippett’s string quartets live at Wigmore Hall

'The early works have an unflagging momentum, and the slow movements glow'

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COMPOSERS: Michael Tippett
LABELS: Wigmore Hall Live
ALBUM TITLE: Tippett
WORKS: String Quartets Nos 1-5
PERFORMER: Heath Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: Wigmore Hall Live WHLIVE 0080/2

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Michael Tippett regarded TS Eliot as his ‘spiritual father’, and talked of writing his own Four Quartets. In the end, he left us five. Three are from the 1940s, and are powered by the kind of ticking energy and radiant, sunlit sonorities that characterise other early works such as the Concerto for Double String Orchestra. The fourth, however, did not follow for three decades; the fifth, completed in 1991, would be the 86-year-old Tippett’s penultimate work. The five together thus form a skewed but rewarding survey of the composer’s life.

The Heath Quartet enters a sparse field with this live recording of all five quartets, taken from Wigmore Hall concerts in late 2013 and early 2014 – which were, judging from the lavish amounts of applause, very well received. They do, however, have a looming contender in the Lindsay Quartet, whose studio recording, still available as a download, has the authority of being overseen by the composer himself. Yet there is plenty to recommend the Heath version, which is infused with the energy of live performance.

The early works have an unflagging momentum, and the slow movements glow, not least that of the Quartet No. 1, which Tippett said described ‘the deepest, most shattering experience of falling in love’. The more complex textures of No. 4 emerge vivid, and the long last movement of No. 5, powerful and consoling, has the depth and weight of a last testament. Above all, it is good to see a quartet of the next generation carrying Tippett’s music forward.

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Erica Jeal