The Strad Issue: January 2017
Description: The Sacconi pairs A minor quartets by two 19th-century masters
Musicians: Sacconi Quartet
Composer: Beethoven, Mendelssohn
Catalogue number: SACCONI RECORDS SACC 105

The Sacconi Quartet’s fifth own-label release neatly pairs Beethoven’s late A minor Quartet (1825) with Mendelssohn’s own A minor work of two years later. The booklet notes point out some of Mendelssohn’s references to Beethoven’s late quartets, and op.132 in particular – not least the appearance of an impassioned recitative in the first violin – though, in a notable oversight, it doesn’t list the movement durations.

In the Beethoven, the Sacconis may be assured technically but we have to wait until the third-movement Molto adagio, the ‘Hymn of thanksgiving’ composed following the composer’s recovery from a period of sickness, for anything really special. Here the bravely bare, vibratoless sound matches the ancient Lydian harmonies and allows even more contrast with the more optimistic alternating sections that allude to ‘new strength’.

In the Mendelssohn, too, there’s little to fault, but similarly there’s a lack of radiating dynamism to persuade us that the players are truly inhabiting the music. The cantabile opening of the slow movement surely demands a more chocolatey warmth; and even though the Sacconis are poised in the relatively measured pace of the Intermezzo, with its serenade-like plucked accompaniment, the elfin central section (which could only have come from the composer of the scherzo from A Midsummer Night’s Dream) fails to fly. Like the recording quality, these performances are perfectly respectable, but the Sacconis face stiff competition in these cornerstones of the repertoire.

Edward Bhesania