THERE was a big story in the debut appearance at Perth Concert Hall on Wednesday night of the Michelangelo String Quartet.

It's not a secret: it just hasn't been launched with pomp. Perth Concert Hall has signed up the Michelangelo Quartet to perform a complete cycle of Beethoven's String Quartets next season. Full details will be announced soon, but the quartets will be performed at six concerts between October this year and May 2013.

So the group's Perth debut on Wednesday was by way of a calling card. And what a calling card, with the finest, most spellbinding concert performances I have heard of Haydn's glorious Sunrise Quartet, Bartok's First String Quartet, rivetingly detailed and atmospheric, and of Dvorak's American Quartet, played with extraordinary elan, and securing from the music heart-beating joy of a quality rarely heard. The letter and spirit of Dvorak's flawless music was totally liberated by these gob-smacking musicians.

For those who don't know, the Michelangelo is a group of soloists, founded a decade ago by the great viola player Nobuko Imai. First violinist is the incomparable Mihaela Martin, who put neither foot nor finger wrong in some of the best first-violin playing I have witnessed (always the weak link in any string quartet). Second violin, new to the line up, is Daniel Austrich, whose immaculate ensemble-playing locked him seamlessly into the group. Imai, of course, with her deep-throated, now warm, now husky, viola tone, is unique, as is cellist Frans Helmerson, whose pivotal role as anchor, lyricist and driving force was effortlessly executed. Groups made of soloists do not always gel. This one does. A wonderful night, and a mouth-watering prospect for next season.