Quartet Movements
Hugo WOLF (1860-1901)
Serenade in G (1887) [6:34]
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
Crisantemi (1890) [6:23]
Carl ORFF (1895-1982)
Quartettsatz, op.22 (1914) [8:39]
Charles IVES (1874-1954)
Scherzo [1:23]
Wolfgang RIHM (b.1952)
Quartettsatz I (1993) [22:41]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Allegro assai ('Quartettsatz') in C minor, D.703 (1820) [8:43]
Anton WEBERN (1883-1945)
Langsamer Satz in C minor (1905) [10:03]
Signum Quartet (Kerstin Dill (violin I); Annette Walther (violin II); Xandi van Dijk (viola); Thomas Schmitz (cello))
rec. Gärtnerstraße Studio, Berlin, 13-16 March 2011. DDD
CAPRICCIO C5064 [56:30]  

This is the second disc for Capriccio by the mainly-German Signum Quartet. It follows a well-received recital of String Quartets by the underrated Austrian composer Ludwig Thuille in 2010 (C5049). This is not the first time that a young string quartet has put together a programme of what is known in German, and sometimes English, as Quartettsätze - string quartets confined by their creator, by design or otherwise, to a single movement. Only last year, for example, the Belgian Quatuor Alfama released their own 'Quartettsatz' CD on Fuga Libera - see review.
Both discs open with Hugo Wolf's sunny, celebrated 'Italian' Serenade, and both include Anton Webern's hauntingly beautiful Langsamer Satz ('Slow Movement'). The Alfama recital included a couple of surprise treats for the listener, youthful pieces not typical of the later, famous master: Rachmaninov's Romance in G minor and Schoenberg's Schubertian Presto in C. The Signums have their own equivalent here that may even upstage those: Carl Orff's op.22. As with Webern or Puccini, Orff's teenage work bears little resemblance to the music he later became known for - he wavers almost delicately between Romanticism and Impressionism, only later to discover a completely different voice. The booklet does not say, but this appears to be the work's first ever recording - in which case, something of a coup for the Signum.
Wolfgang Rihm's own Quartettsatz is actually a full quartet, his Ninth. According to the notes, Rihm makes allusions in it to Schubert's Quartettsatz, although for most listeners it will prove a considerably more aurally challenging work, and a case of taking the composer's word for it! Nonetheless, it is a typically imaginative, episodic, invigorating piece full of late 20th-century drama and sound which the Signum Quartet, who have performed it in concert on several occasions, navigate with great panache. They compare favourably with the reading of another German quartet, the Minguet, available on volume 3 of their valuable recording of Rihm's complete Quartets (Col Legno 20213, 2005). For comparison, if that is the word, the Signums follow Rihm with Schubert's glorious Allegro assai in C minor, D.703, the founding father - and possibly crowning jewel - of the genre.
Like the Schubert, the works by Puccini, Wolf and Webern have all been recorded dozens of times, affording the discerning listener immense choice. Yet the Signum Quartet are first-rate company for all their competition, playing with passion and intelligence, as well as terrific attention to detail in the score and to each other. There is a depth and maturity to their interpretations which does full justice to the poignancy and intensity of pieces like Crisantemi and the Webern and to the power and virtuosity of the Rihm and the Ives.
Sound quality in this studio recording is very good. The German-English booklet is fairly informative, although the translation has been done by a native German-speaker, competently in general but leaving numerous phrases and even long sentences with a decidedly foreign accent.
Collected reviews and contact at reviews.gramma.co.uk
The Signum play with passion and intelligence, as well as terrific attention to detail and each other.