The Strad Issue: January 2007
Musicians: Heine Quartet
Composer: Brahms, Janácek

This unusual pairing of quartets is partly explained in the accompanying notes by their common communication to friends: Brahms to Joachim and Jana?c ?ek to his adored Kamila Sto?sslova?. It is an effective one, and perfectly suited to the strengths of this fine ensemble. The Heine Quartet brings to both works a sustained intensity and wide emotional range, with clean, clear playing and superb balance. The players adroitly negotiate the mood shifts of Brahms, genial and relaxed at the outset, marked by an easy rubato, with outbursts of Beethovenian drama in the latter stages of the first movement and agitated rhetoric amid the sometimes bleak beauty of the second.

The players show a judicious and effective use of vibrato: sweet in Brahms’s engaging melodies; spare or absent altogether in his more melancholy moments. They are abetted by an acoustic that allows both satisfying clarity and fullness of sound. The quartet’s skill in holding a course through disparate material, which shows again to great effect in the diffuse finale of the Brahms, is the major element in a particularly satisfying performance of the Janá?ek. This is indeed intimate playing: the composer’s constant shifts of direction, the endless subtle recolouring of material, the extremes of expression, are wonderfully caught. There is a strong sense of structure here, tying together the fragments and discursions, producing a cumulative depth and complexity of feeling that is profoundly moving.