LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
ALBUM TITLE: Tchaikovsky
WORKS: String Quartets Nos 1 & 3
PERFORMER: Heath Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: HMU 907665
Can this be the same quartet which has brought us such bracing Tippett and Bartók? Well, no one can fine-tune to every style, and this just isn’t the Heaths’ natural territory. The intonation, the teamwork and the solos are all first-rate. But if the players miss what’s most impressive about the two Tchaikovsky quartets here – the light, gay touches of the First and the deep-veined tragedy in parts of the Third – then they need to find something else here. Instead of an alternative personality, there’s something wrong in every movement.
That includes the rushing in the opening Moderato e semplice of No. 1, the unloving sound in the Andante cantabile and in nearly every lyric passage – especially compromised by a dry recording that’s at such an unrelentingly forward, high level that the sound constantly needs adjusting – and the clipped wings in what should be flights of fancy (especially in the two finales and the scherzo of No. 2). Just when you think a passage is going well, like the ardent, bittersweet descending violin melody which comes as balm to the funeral-march rhythms and dirges of the Second’s slow movement, something goes awry (in this case an unnecessary pressing in the melody’s extension). And surely it’s possible to produce more volume even with the mutes on? There’s one final drawback – what about the Second Quartet, which is equally inventive and has the most powerful slow movement? Two CDs for the price of one might have solved that gaping omission.