Nicholas Yonge Society

Chamber Music in Lewes

1st March 2019

Haydn String Quartet Op 20 No 4
Ligeti String Quartet No 2
Beethoven String Quartet Op 127

Heath Quartet in performance 

After a full house for Messiaen’s 'Quatuor pour la fin du temps' in January, there was another yesterday for a twentieth-century masterpiece – Ligeti’s extraordinary second quartet. The Ligeti was framed by Haydn and Beethoven quartets, in their day, as surprisingly new as the Ligeti still seems.

Famously, Ligeti’s music was used (aptly, but without permission) by Stanley Kubrik for his ’2001 a Space Odyssey’. Earlier, Ligeti had been interested by chance procedures, but here all is meticulously notated, needing extraordinary virtuosity from the quartet both individually and collectively. The five movements seem almost to be studies in the most extreme sound worlds it is possible for a string quartet to create, from desert-like stillness to scurrying torrents of notes. Instructions in the score include ‘as though crazy’, ‘brutale’ yet, finally, surprisingly, ’always very mildly’.  It may be that the Heath’s practice of standing to play helps them with the sharp-eyed communication needed for these challenges and Ligeti’s demands were well matched by them, the audience seeming spellbound throughout. 

Balance and a sense of conversational enthusiasm were brought to their playing of the Haydn (Op. 20 No.4). The piece needs both delicacy and poise, but in its ‘Gypsy’ minuet and finale the Heath played with infectious recklessness.

Beethoven’s op.127 may be the most amiable of his late quartets, but its first performance in 1825 it was described by one reviewer as ‘incomprehensible, incoherent, vague, over-extended series of fantasies – chaos …’ , words we might have expected some years ago for Ligeti! Throughout, the Heath were alert to each other bringing great beauty to the slow movement variations while bringing brusque energy to the scherzo – Beethoven at his most witty and bucolic.

An exciting concert of extremes which sent the audience away talking.

Reviewer: John Hawkins
Photographer: David James