Review: 26 January 2017 Robert Plane, Sacconi Quartet

Haydn, York Bowen, Glazunov, Brahms

The fourth concert of the season featured the Sacconi String Quartet and the former CBSO clarinettist Robert Plane in a programme including Haydn’s Quartet Op.76 No.1 in G, Brahms’ Clarinet Quintet in B minor, Op.115 and two curiosities. The first of these, York Bowen’s Phantasy Quintet Op.93 for bass clarinet and strings, was the more interesting. Its expressionistic style is reminiscent of early Schoenberg (of the 1st String Quartet), with a highly unstable tonality and complex textures woven from short but strongly characterized atonal figures. This music needs – and received – committed performance, although the silky tones of Robert Plane’s bass clarinet seemed a little bland for this earthy, passionate music. The other curiosity was an early piece by Glazunov, a melancholic meditation entitled Oriental Reverie. As the opener for the second half of the concert, this piece set the tone for a nostalgic performance of Brahms’ Clarinet Quintet.

During the concert, the first and second violinists twice changed places, and it was interesting to note how differently the quartet played under the two leaders. Hannah Dawson (in the two ‘curiosities’) was by the far more interesting player, the quartet as a whole responding to her with positive, engaged playing. Ben Hancox is a less demonstrative player, and the performances under him (the Haydn and Brahms) were generally under-characterised. There was some lovely quiet playing in the Haydn, but ensemble was not always secure and the moments of virtuosity seemed tentative. The Brahms, however, was all about withdrawal. Those fading tones, reminiscent of a faded sepia photograph, were consistently beautiful, but their very beauty concealed the passion, the angst lying just below the surface of this autumnal work. The clarinettist responded with consistently lovely playing, which the audience duly appreciated.

Peter Johnson