Franz Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
String Quartets Op. 54 (1788): No. 1 in G major [19:09] No. 2 in C major [20:19] No. 3 in E major [23:40]
Sacconi Quartet (Ben Hancox and Hannah Dawson (violins); Robin Ashwell (viola); Cara Berridge (cello))
rec. The Music Room, Champs Hill, Sussex (date not specified)
SACCONI RECORDS no number [63:13]

Haydn’s Op. 54 Quartets were written, along with Opp. 55 and 64, for Johann Tost and the three sets are therefore named after him. He was a violinist in Haydn’s Esterháza orchestra and, at least according to Paul Edlin’s brief booklet notes, was a somewhat dubious businessman. What is certain, however, is that the Quartets he obtained from Haydn are of the highest quality. Each of the present set is succinct, constantly interesting and full of the composer’s most imaginative inventions. They are perhaps not the most obviously popular of his quartets – the lack of nicknames does not help - but are the kind of pieces that will very effectively restore the mind to order and ease the temper. It is worth having a recording available for when this is necessary.

This recording would be very suitable for the purpose. The Sacconi Quartet was formed at the Royal College of Music in 2001 and has won numerous prizes and a growing reputation. Their busy programme has apparently included playing to prisoners and refugees in Kent. Whoever set up those concerts deserves considerable praise, especially if their playing was anywhere near as good as it is here. The art of good quartet playing demands simultaneous demonstration of the player’s individuality and their ability to function as a group, in other words, to recognize the place of the individual in a wider society. I suspect that I was just carried away by the music and the playing but my immediate hope after listening was that the Sacconi should be commissioned to play Haydn in all our prisons to reduce re-offending.

Obviously this is naïve nonsense, but it is the way that the playing on this disc made me feel. There is a concentration on the detailed changes of character of the music as it evolves, and a clear headedness about the performances that is both invigorating and involving. The recording is clear and the edition (by Simon Rowland-Jones, published by Peters) reliable. Quartet playing and music of this quality is rare on disc, which rises well above the routine or merely adequate.

John Sheppard

see also review by Bob Briggs