THE Heath Quartet are a superb ensemble of talented musicians and the chance to hear them playing Beethoven in the wonderful setting of the Long Gallery at Castle Howard was such a treat.

The concert opened with the first of Beethoven’s late quartets, No 12 in E flat major. The playing in the outer movements was, of course, excellent, but it was the musicianship in the inner Adagio and Scherzo that demanded attention. The Quartet effortlessly conveyed the inner strength of the dignified Adagio which embraces Beethoven’s humanity.

They were equally at ease with the slightly musically bonkers Scherzo, embracing the playfulness of the narrative, the playing brimming with wit and energy. They closed their recital with Beethoven’s Quartet no 13 in B flat. The performance of the radical opening Adagio ma non troppo - Allegro was very well judged, alternating the slow and fast passages, moving from the sober to joy with dramatic conviction.

The brief gem of the Presto was full of energy and played to perfection. The Cavatina was simply gorgeous and the Andante heartbreakingly sublime. As good as the Quartet in E flat performance was, and it was very good indeed, I thought this was even better.

Perhaps it is a personal response, the B flat Quartet is one of my all time favourites, and yet… there seemed to be an even greater heightened awareness of the music, the playing seemed to have a very real instinctive insight and they played it with real, infectious joy.

At the centre of this delicious Beethoven sandwich was Jeremy Irons reading TS Eliot’s Burnt Norton (from his Four Quartets; an inspired piece of programming). I had two reservations about this. Firstly, was the microphone really necessary? Secondly, the end of the E flat Quartet Finale demands a response, there can be no ‘in the moment’ continuum. Having said that, Jeremy Irons read the poem beautifully, with real poetic and indeed dramatic insight which transformed this intellectual and difficult work into something we can all embrace: a poem of true riches and meaning.