“My Mother was a stalker. As a family we have tried to keep it quiet but on days when his schedule was known, she admitted to waiting as a student behind Harvard Yard’s ivy-covered pillars until he appeared, subsequently following him out of youthful admiration bordering on obsession.” Target of her affections: T.S. Eliot.

His resonance is alive and well with both her offspring and the musical public. The great romantic 20th century poet drew a sell -out crowd to an elegant location last evening in Dublin. The Smock Alley Theatre, downtown and riverside, well restored and equipped in comfortable three quarter round seating, hosted one of the chamber music concerts of the present ‘Music in Great Irish Houses’ Festival.  The Heath Quartet performed Beethoven’s Opus 132 and one of the grand dames of Irish theatre, Olwen  Fouere recited Eliot’s Four Quartets, a beloved work – according to many the poet’s very best- often, if questionably, contextualized with Beethoven’s late masterpiece.

Heath Quartet © Sussie Ahlburg
Heath Quartet
© Sussie Ahlburg

Expectations ran high as festival marketing stressed not only Heath Quartet and Ms. Fouere but director Tom Creed as well: what had they come up with under his direction? How creative would the evening’s entertainment be? How would musical and poetic masterpieces intertwine, fare in his hands? The long and short of it is that little happened at all: no symbiosis between poetry and music, no interaction, nothing creative, no theatrical direction of the musicians. The poetry was read aloud from a book and followed by a performance of the Beethoven. The four musicians walked in as the actress left, accompanied by some uncomfortable, lukewarm applause. Something went terribly wrong with the expectation management of this event.

A simple desk and lamp backed by a very attractive, well lit stone wall of the age old theatre was, in potential, a wonderful setting to hear T. S. Eliot, nothing to distract from his famous and furtive words. However Ms. Fouere’s reading was uninspired, rarely engaging with her audience, her reading stressing rhyme over meaning. Lovely colors changed on the back wall from time to time.

Onwards to Beethoven and, in the hands of the Heath Quartet, better things. Since 2008, when they won the Tromp quartet competition in The Netherlands, this foursome has grown and matured in a natural evolution towards the international top. Spot on intonation, warm tone of voice and flexible timing is no easy feat in late Beethoven! Perhaps due to sitting in a lesser spot in the round, the top two voices were a tad faded in comparison to a vibrant viola and sensuous cello.

The Heath Quartet is doing well, certainly. All four musicians are careful and very tasteful so their performances will surely ripen in the coming years.  Let’s hope they do not again get distracted by promises of theatrical drama that spoiled the context of their good work here in Dublin.

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