The Sacconi Quartet at the Bristol Proms
Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 15 in A minor was accompanied by experimental filming
‘I was a wreck after I first heard this piece,’ began the Sacconi Quartet’s Ben Hancox ahead of their performance of Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 15 in A minor at the Bristol Proms. ‘It’s not just us going on a journey – it’s all of us together in this room. So we’ll see you at the end!’
And this piece really is a journey – one towards that utterly sublime third movement where Beethoven gives thanks for having come through bad illness. And the final two movements – the brief Alla Marcia, assai vivace leading into the Allegro appassionato – feel like an uplifting and triumphant celebration of life.
The Sacconi Quartet felt hesitant from the outset, the first movement having some moments of sparkle but lacking overall cohesion. By the second movement the Sacconis seemed more focused, generating a nice dialogue between parts.
They opened the third movement with a sparing use of vibrato. It's something that can work if the tone achieved is pure and smooth, but with some intonation slips and thinness of sound, the later appearance of a warmer sound was very welcome.
The sense of tension that had built up in the run up to the third movement was released in the final two, which danced and raced with splendid energy.
The Sacconi’s intimate performance in the Studio of the Bristol Old Vic was accompanied by film projections curated by Judith Aston and members of the University of West England’s filmmaking department. These were designed to be experimental, utilising layered images and close-ups to give a sense of the quartet’s communication and responses to each other. The projections gave the audience, sat in a circle around the ensemble, multiple perspectives on the performers’ concentration and reactions to the music, something that undoubtedly enhanced the experience of people less familiar with this work, or indeed with classical music as a whole.
When the evening started, actually, Hancox asked for a show of hands from people who hadn’t heard this piece of music before and over a third of the audience raised their hands. ‘How exciting,’ the violinist responded. And that, really, is what I enjoy most about the Bristol Proms: seeing people who are completely new to classical music becoming immersed in some incredible repertoire beside more experienced members of the audience.
Photo: Emilie Bailey