It was a fortunate audience that experienced the Heath Quartet giving a soul-affirming demonstration of what chamber music is all about.

The programme, which took us from Bach to Britten, opened with three chorale preludes from Bach's Orgel-buchlein. Choosing the contemplative over the joyous, the players illuminated this music with lustrous, viol-like tone, clearly relishing the dissonant shifts of the composer's often searing chromaticism.

New Zealand composer Gareth Farr's Te Koanga revealed his quieter side after, the night before, taking us for a wild ride with the NZ Symphony Orchestra. This is a celebration of spring, written in memory of Wellington cellist and luthier Ian Lyons.

Uncanny in its super-real evocations of birdsong, Farr has fashioned a miniature tone poem that moves from delicate treetop rumba to the clearest of floating harmonies, every chord rendered with absolute precision by these expert players.

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The D major Quartet of Haydn's Opus 71 was performed with exhilaration and fire. The players' camaraderie was evident when the quartet sank into a resonant Adagio chord or bustled about in crackling Allegro conversation.

In the Andante cantabile, Oliver Heath excelled in what Hans Keller once described as an aria for the first violin and the merry humour emanating from Haydn's final rondo was contagious.

After interval, Benjamin Britten's Second String Quartet, wittily introduced by cellist Christopher Murray, was a revelation. This is very much in the key of C and the quartet did full justice to its sonorous unisons and some spiky harmonic diversions along the way.

Working through the sequence of 21 variations in the final Chacony, there was a sense of adventure in this voyage, travelling through a musical landscape punctuated by dashingly handled cadenzas.

I, for one, will tune into RNZ Concert next Wednesday evening for the relay of the group's Wellington performance.


Classical review

What: Heath Quartet
Where: Auckland Town Hall Concert Chamber
Reviewed by: William Dart