Heath Quartet – Oliver Heath, Cerys Jones, Gary Pomeroy, Christopher Murray, with Adam Newman

© Gautier Deblonde
© Gautier Deblonde

Before Sir Simon Rattle and the LSO embarked on Messiaen's 'Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorem' and Bruckner's 9th Symphony, there was a free concert in the Guildhall Artists at the Barbican series, in which the Heath Quartet and Adam Newman treated us to a truly enchanting performance of Bruckner’s Quintet. The quintet does not receive as many performances as it deserves, and often all you get is the glorious Adagio on its own as a piece for string orchestra. And sometimes you feel that chamber performers do not really understand Bruckner: this being his only mature chamber work, they may not be so familiar with his symphonic writing. But on this occasion it sounded as though the players had really thought through and discovered the structure, the sense and the emotional heart of the piece.

Perhaps right at the beginning Oliver Heath’s phrasing of the opening theme came over as just a bit too ingratiatingly expressive but, once they settled in, the performance took flight and became one of the best it has been my privilege to attend: it was played with such intelligence and commitment! The opening movement’s three theme groups were each wonderfully characterised, and then the five-way conversation that takes place in the development, the movement’s opening phrase passed in various guises from instrument to instrument, was accomplished with true communication between the players, each seeming to respond and take wing from the previous player’s contribution. It was absolutely delightful.

The Scherzo’s dancing figures were brightly inflected and totally absorbing, especially that weird and ghostly passage where the second viola meanders beneath pizzicato violins; the Trio beautifully airy, an absolutely enchanting contrast. The performance of the Adagio that followed was full of profound emotion, very slow but in fact perfectly paced and controlled: it is hard to imagine how it could be better presented. The bizarre motivic fragments, contrasts and drama of the finale were tackled head-on, without compromise or embarrassment, but there was never any sense that the structural progress of the work was undermined – and this sense of formal coherence and direction was apparent in all the movements – so that when the final fff tonic burst with some vehemence upon us it seemed both arbitrary and inevitable at the same time: a wonderful conclusion to a fantastic performance!