String Quartet in F, Op.41/2
String Quartet in C minor, Op.51/1
Signum Quartet [Kerstin Dill & Annette Walther (violins), Xandi van Dijk (viola) and Thomas Schmitz (cello)]
Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood
Reviewed: 22 October, 2012
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London
The Signum Quartet began this BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert at Wigmore Hall with one of Robert Schumann’s most positive pieces, the second of the three string quartets written in a surge of creativity during 1842. This performance suggested the spontaneity of the music flowing as if from a writer’s pen. The balance between the musicians was extremely good, emphasising Schumann’s equal treatment of the four instruments, though in the first movement there was a tendency to ‘push through’ the longer notes, so that a crescendo resulted in each. This became off-putting but was thankfully short-lived, for the Andante – with its variations on a separate theme to the main one – was charming, and the scherzo, a tricky customer for first violinists with its arpeggios and troublesome syncopations, was skilfully negotiated. The Signum Quartet dealt well, too, with the finale’s many notes. This depth of detail was vigorously explored; not only through virtuosity but with wit, too.
The Brahms took on a more imposing stature, a serious piece that spent not far from a decade on its composer’s desk before being declared ready. It bears many similarities with the composer’s First Symphony, a product of struggle and perfectionism, but one that ultimately triumphs. There are moments in the C minor String Quartet where the scale of Brahms’s writing for four instruments sounds more like double that amount, and here the music became ragged, particularly in the finale. Yet the Signum Quartet caught the anxiety of the Allegretto, with its questioning theme and uneasy trio, the musicians dovetailing neatly. The ‘Romance’ was nice, though Kerstin Dill had a tendency to slide a bit too much between notes. If the finale was on the gritty side it lacked nothing in feeling or intensity, right up to the emphatic final bars.