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Review: Sacconi Quartet. 13 October 2014

14 October 2014

By: Tim Robinson, published in the Ripon Gazette – 23 October 2014


Haydn String Quartet in F minor, Op. 20, No. 5
Janáček String Quartet No. 1 (Kreutzer Sonata)
Beethoven String Quartet in A minor, Op. 132

Something singular happened at this concert tonight. At the end of the third movement of the Beethoven quartet (Molto adagio – Andante) there was a silence so profound, so intense, so visceral that few in the chancel of Ripon Cathedral will forget it. Time stood still. We the audience, were changed by it. Ben Hancox, the first violinist anticipated the reception of this movement in the chancel of the cathedral. It was if the whole concert was programmed to lead up to this moment of new reality.

The Haydn quartet may be in F minor but the Sacconi Quartet still make us want to get up and dance with their extraordinary internal rhythm. The piece begins with an accompanied tune by the first violin. Later the second violin takes over whilst the first offers (as if off the cuff) a wistful, questioning obligato. One could say that the whole concert was a conversation of many moods and many subjects between the four instruments. Perhaps this is the nature of chamber music brought to a profound level by this group. The contrast between the violins was particularly fascinating throughout the concert, Hannah Dawson offering warm lyrical tone whist Ben Hancox producing what might be called an almost smokey, ethereal sound. The last movement of this piece is a fugue, perhaps looking back to the Baroque era just gone. The Sacconi’s tightly controlled intelligence made the fugue fresh and immediate.

The Janáček piece is hugely demanding of both players and listeners. The intricate rhythmical, melodic and harmonic textures are both difficult to play and challenge the listeners’ understanding. The music seems to ask one question after another with few answers. It is electrifying, exhausting and exhilarating. Parts seemed to have a physical effect on the air in the building, the tremolando in the second movement for example. To what purpose is this demanding music? An audience of over one hundred and fifty people packed the cathedral chancel to find out. During the interval we were buzzing with enthusiasm and anticipating a very special second half. Yet I think even then we did not know that for some of us there would be moments we would never forget.

Beethoven’s Opus 132 begins in sombre mood (perhaps foreshadowing the third movement). A brief few of bars of (enforced?) jollity ensue before the main theme is stated and developed. The second movement is interspersed with unison passages. The theme begins with a long note which the instrumentalists in turn stretched giving a wonderful sense of pushing and pulling.. I hesitate to describe the third movement. Words just will not do. Go and listen to it. Find it on You Tube! Buy the Sacconi’s recording which they about to make. Then go and listen to it live. You must listen to it live. It will change you. A short final movement necessarily returned the audience to terra firma.

The audience left humbled. We simply wanted to give thanks

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