String Quartet in B flat Op.76/4 (Sunrise)
String Quartet No.2 in C, Op.36
String Quartet in E minor, Op.59/2 (Razumovsky)
[Ben Hancox & Hannah Dawson (violins), Robin Ashwell (viola) & Cara Berridge (cello)]
Reviewed by: Kenneth Carter
Reviewed: 15 February, 2006
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London
The Sacconi Quartet began professional life in 2001, its origin being at the Royal College of Music. The group takes its name from Simone Sacconi (born 1896), violin-maker and -restorer in Cremona and New York and author of the standard reference on violin-making, “The Secrets of Stradivari”.
These players are outstanding – individually and collectively. Whenever a particular instrument had a telling utterance to make, then the Sacconi players – with utmost skill and finesse – made absolutely sure this instrument was truly audible. This is primarily a question of balance – rarely achieved to this degree. Thus we were introduced fully, in several quasi-solo moments, to the raw, lithe sonority of Cara Berridge’s cello, the richness of Robin Ashwell’s viola (made by Sacconi in 1934), and the respective violins of Hannah Dawson and Ben Hancox.
I last heard Haydn’s ‘Sunrise’ two or three years ago with The Lindsays, a glorious Technicolour reading. The Sacconi saw it as a leaner, fitter piece of music, very much of the eighteenth century. This was a no-nonsense performance, robust and brisk, well-articulated and precise, pleasing and with some weight. The first movement, sprightly and forward-moving, had a sense of occasion (i.e. the occasion of the sunrise); the slow movement impressed with a grave sonority; the last two movements scampered engagingly.
In the Britten the players took in their stride whatever was thrown at them – strange intervals, awkward leaps, unexpected combinations, lurches of key, drones, and accompaniment turning into a kind of combat. Due to careful, perceptive study (and no doubt much discussion), a sympathetic response, innate musicianship and plenty of performing experience, the music fell into place. It sounded inevitable.
The first movement, and the last – that great Chaconne in honour of Purcell – gave us simple themes, almost noble, in a rendition that was truly timeless. With profound insight – and, may I surmise, love? – highly sophisticated players were showing us, as if to the manner born, one of the most sophisticated and musical minds.
The Beethoven was of similar ilk. As with Britten, the players sought to identify the language that Beethoven speaks and presented a masterpiece – with vibrant and eloquent conviction. They barked out Beethoven’s opening chords and then hurled into long, arching phrases hurtling towards a climax – the mighty, riding swells of a perpetual and restless sea. Suddenly, dazzling thunderbolts sprang through the clouds. This opening movement was a profusion of utterances, exhilarating and varied, a language of virile, passionate outpouring. In the slow movement we paused to contemplate the stars; in the impish Allegretto Beethoven treats a church melody with “sublime disrespect”; the finale holds yet more bucolic fun and rampage.
These performances came from four people who were sitting at the heart of the music and interpreting its very core, skilfully, meticulously, passionately and totally. You have not heard the last of the Sacconi quartet!