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Sacconi website

Franz Joseph HAYDN (1732 - 1809)
String Quartet in G, op.54/1 (1788) [19:09]
String Quartet in C, op.54/2 (1788) [20:19]
String Quartet in E, op.54/3 (1788) [23:40]
Sacconi Quartet (Ben Hancox, Hannah Dawson (violins); Robin Ashwell (viola); Cara Berridge (cello))
rec. 21 - 22 July and 4 August 2008, The Music Room, Champs Hill, Sussex, DDD
SACCONI RECORDS no serial number [63:13]
Experience Classicsonline

I had the great pleasure of hearing the Sacconi Quartet in the flesh recently, playing Haydn’s D major Quartet, op.76/5, and I was immediately struck by the insight these young players showed into the music of, not only, a man in his mid-60s, but a composer who is so often misunderstood. They seemed to perfectly understand every nuance, find exactly the right tempo for each movement, instinctively knowing that when Haydn wants a Presto finale, he doesn’t necessarily want some hell-for-leather race, he’s more interested in the jokes, and they play with a verve and style which is perfect for this composer. So you can imagine how excited I was to be given this, and also their second issue on their own label, to review.

Each of these three works is in the conventional four movements and Haydn packs them with a real wealth of good things. The Vivace assai of the 1st Quartet gets things off to a cracking start - a bright and breezy performance, full of fun and great interplay between the players. The serenade-like second movement is relaxed and gently warming, like a good Torte mit Sahne. There is a suavity to the minuet, and the finale is slightly held back in order to allow the music to speak. A lovely, understated, performance.

Opus 54/2 begins in the most delightful high spirits, leader Ben Hancox employing a very subtle rubato to colour the main theme, and this is most useful when Haydn piles on the jokes in the recapitulation. For sheer exuberance this single movement is hard to beat. The brief slow movement is tragic and sparse, a truly heart-breaking performance here, and the ensuing minuet, which follows almost without a break, seems to grow out of the dying embers of the previous music. The tempo here is quite deliberate and it has a marvelous light and airy feel, but the trio returns to tragedy. And how wonderfully well do the quartet handle the change from one mood to the exact opposite without any feel that they are separate sections, one just comes out of the other, and then back again. The finale starts with a long, slow, introduction, which is almost a movement in its own right, and its sombre, but never tragic, mood is immediately dispelled by the mercurial Presto, which comes and goes so quickly as if to be some kind of half remembered thought. The slow coda is beautifully handled and restrained, the players not allowing the sudden rush to make them speed up the ending, which is radiant.

The third of the set is equally original and daring in its construction. An easy-going first movement is followed by a slow movement of deep feeling and unrestrained passion. The minuet hops along, and we here can delight in some playing in perfect octaves from the violins, whilst the finale is a delightful run in the park, if that’s your bag.

This is a very welcome issue from a still fairly young ensemble - they formed in 2001 at the Royal College of Music - and one which is intent on “getting it right”; ensuring that the tempo fits the music, for instance, even if it seems to go against accepted wisdom. They have a wide palette of tonal colour and, perhaps best of all, they repeat the expositions!

The Sacconi Quartet will be big - get in here at the beginning and hang around for more and more precious moments of great music making. The recording is excellent, the musicians are placed at a slight distance from the microphone so there’s a nice feel of the room in which the recording was made, but it’s not reverberant, and every line can be heard clearly, which is as much a tribute to the preparation of the Quartet as it is to do with the placing of the engineer. The notes are short but useful and theses performances can be downloaded from the Sacconi’s own website at

A most exciting issue.

Bob Briggs  


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