Quartettsatz
Hugo WOLF (1860-1901)
Serenade in G (1887) [6:52]
Anton WEBERN (1883-1945)
Langsamer Satz in C minor (1905) [9:53]
Arnold SCHOENBERG (1874-1951)
Presto in C (c.1895) [6:52]
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Capriccio in E minor, op.81/3 (1843) [6:09]
Pyotr TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Quartettsatz in B flat (1865) [12:14]
Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976)
Alla Marcia (1933) [3:53]
Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Andante Festivo (1922) [4:06]
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Romance in G minor (1889) [6:27]
Quatuor Alfama - Elsa de Lacerda (violin I); CÚline Bodson (violin II); Kris Hellemans (viola); Renaat Ackaert (cello)
rec. Flagey Studio 1, Brussels, 20-26 December 2010. DDD
FUGA LIBERA FUG582 [56:30]

In an intelligent attempt to create a niche for themselves in a crowded string quartet 'marketplace', the Belgian Quatuor Alfama have put together a programme not of new, obscure or repertoire quartets, but of what is often referred to in English by the German word Quartettsätze - quartet movements, in plain language.

Admittedly, the works in their recital are not all Quartettsätze - in fact, only two are, strictly speaking. But they are chiefly lesser known works by well-known composers, in many cases youthful pieces that are not typical of the later, famous master. In fact, in blind tests, many listeners might be hard-pushed to recognise Rachmaninov from the Romance in G minor, which he wrote in his mid-teens, or Schoenberg from the Presto in C that predates his Two Songs op.1 by a couple of years.

Some of the pieces will, on the other hand, likely be too well-known to fool anyone: Webern's Langsamer Satz ('Slow Movement'), for example, has been recorded, or at least performed, by almost every quartet worth its salt, as has Wolf's Serenade in G, better known in its string orchestra arrangement as the Italian Serenade. That, and especially Mendelssohn's Capriccio in E minor, op.81/3 and Sibelius's Andante Festivo are works from their composers' maturity and belong, on the whole, to the standard repertoire, if only the outer edges.

In fact, it is fair to say that the Alfamas could have cast their nets considerably wider for their recital: Quartet Movements by Josef Suk (op.31), Howard Hanson (op.23), Charles Griffes (1903), Ethel Smyth (in A sharp minor), Hilding Rosenberg (1942), Henry Cowell (1934), Niels Viggo Bentzon (op.507) or Peter Maxwell Davies (1952), or unusual early pieces like George Antheil's Lithuanian Nights or one or more of Mozart's numerous fragments - any of these might have taken the recital at least over the hour mark. Indeed, given the shortness of the disc, a case could easily be made for the Quatuor Alfama's inclusion of Schubert's founding father of the Quartettsatz itself, the C minor D.703.

At any rate, the works the Alfamas do perform here are all glorious, memorable pieces of music, and the relative obscurity of some of them is as regrettable as it is puzzling. Anyone unfamiliar with Wolf's sunny Serenade in its original scoring, Webern's achingly beautiful - and by his later standards monumental - Langsamer Satz, Schoenberg's best impression of Schubert, or Sibelius's noble, solemn Andante Festivo - the composer's own funeral music - is in for a real treat.

Overall the Quatuor Alfama, in this, their third recording, acquit themselves well for an ensemble formed only six years ago. They do have a fair amount of experience on their side - the players are young, as the notes mention a few times, but 30-somethings are not that young! Their intelligence and passion are manifest, as is their originality - most notably in Webern's Langsamer Satz which, in the face of much competition, they have done their own way, with a timing that is certainly on the slow side, though by no means the most sluggish on CD. Their respect for detail in the scores, dynamic markings in particular, is also in abundant evidence. Occasionally there is some suspect intonation, but overall the fine musicianship and unusual programme makes this an appealing product, despite the disc's short timing.

Sound quality in this studio recording is very good. The booklet is attractive and informative. The CD case is made of card; the English-Dutch-French booklet is housed in a slot which is considerably less elegant than the music on the disc.

Byzantion
Collected reviews and contact at reviews.gramma.co.uk

Their intelligence and passion are manifest, as is originality.