from The Classical Shop
Josef SUK (1874-1935)
Meditation on the Old Czech Hymn Saint Wenceslas, op. 35a
Bedřich SMETANA (1824-1884)
String Quartet No. 1 From My Life in E minor (1876) [30:47]
String Quartet No. 12 American in F major, op. 96 (1893)
rec. Music Room, Champs Hill, West Sussex, 3, 4, 17, 18 November
SACCONI RECORDS SACC104 [66:25]
It was the late Bob Briggs who first wrote glowingly
about this young British quartet on the pages of Musicweb International
(see reviews of their Haydn
CDs). He commented on their attention to “getting it right”:
making sure their tempo fitted the music, finding the nuances
and producing a wow factor so often missing from recordings.
This collection of Czech works was my first exposure to the
Sacconi Quartet. When I saw it offered at the Chandos Classical
Shop on their 50% discount download offer, I remembered Bob’s
words and bought it.
I will start with the only work of the three with which I was
familiar enough to be able to make a sensible judgement on the
performance: needless to say, the Dvořák.
From the entry of the viola in the first few bars, I could tell
this was something special. There is a certain luxury to the
viola’s tone that is quite delicious, and the Sacconis
take Dvořák’s “ma non troppo”
instruction seriously, unlike most other versions I have heard.
As a consequence, the first movement at 10:26 is the slowest
I could find, but not at a cost of forward motion. The contrast
between the two themes is so striking because not everything
is taken at speed. The yearning in the Lento is quite overwhelming
and brought to mind a program note from a performance of the
Dvořák cello concerto I attended recently. It made
quite a deal about the homesickness Dvořák was feeling
when he wrote it - that being the case, it is easy to hear the
same emotion here. The third movement Molto vivace is
taken much more slowly than usual - almost a minute longer than
the Lindsays - and I might take issue with it, were I not so
convinced by the Sacconi’s interpretation of the rest
of the work. In the finale, the slow chorale is given considerable
gravitas, providing a dramatic contrast with the hoedown-type
This is an emotionally charged performance of the American Quartet,
and possibly some may find it too much so, but when I listened
to my other recordings - the Lindsays chief among them - they
seemed bland by comparison.
The Suk was new to me, though certainly not to the recording
world - Arkiv Music lists 12 recordings, making it one of Suk’s
most often recorded works. To put that in context, the Dvořák
has 78 listings on Arkiv. As the name would imply, it is slow
throughout, with an impassioned outburst in the middle. The
quiet outer sections are treated with great delicacy.
If this isn’t the best performance of Smetana’s
deeply personal quartet, written after the onset of his deafness,
then I would be very keen to know which is. Perhaps the most
appropriate compliment I can pay the Sacconi Quartet in this
work is that in bringing out the wide range of emotions in the
four movements so well, they can almost convince you that the
work is a masterpiece on a level with the Dvořák.
On top of the great performances is easily the most balanced
and realistic chamber music recording I have heard. With my
eyes closed, I feel that I could reach out and touch the musicians.
As I mentioned above, this was a download, but in CD quality
lossless flac format.
As a combination of performance, composition and sound, it really
doesn’t get much better than this. Needless to say, I
shall be seeking the other recordings by the Sacconis forthwith.
Masterwork Index: Dvorak