SCHUBERT Aus der Ferne (Signum Quartet)
‘Sit back and enjoy’ urges the booklet and it really would be a pity not to listen right through. A string quartet transcription of Schubert’s early song ‘Lied aus der Ferne’ begins the journey with a gentle push; and with a softly glinting version of ‘Du bist die Ruh’ it recedes into the twilight. In between come four more transcriptions of Schubert songs and refined, searching accounts of two full-length quartets: the youthful D112 and the rather more familiar A minor, D804.
The idea, according to Xandi van Dijk (the Signum Quartet’s viola player and arranger, though nowhere, bizarrely, are the names of any of the other members given), is to ‘show how Schubert’s instrumental and vocal music cross-pollinate each other’ and while I’m instinctively sceptical about instrumental transcriptions of vocal works, I was persuaded by how well they work here, and the subtlety and intelligence of the performances. It would have been obvious to put the transcription of ‘Die Götter Griechenlands’ directly before the A minor quartet, which quotes it directly. But how much more evocative, and revealing, to have the quartet’s restless opening phrases follow from the deep stillness at the end of ‘Wandrers Nachtlied’.
And in this context, the two quartets emerge all the more powerfully as the original, idiomatic masterpieces they are. The quartet play transparently and eloquently, without a hint of sentimentality, in performances that deal unflinchingly with the music’s latent violence. The slow movement of the A minor Quartet, in particular, veers terrifyingly into the darkness, and D112 emerges as a work of unexpected boldness and depth. The recorded sound is atmospheric and crystal clear. Definitely not Schubert as easy-listening, then, but a fascinating, thought-provoking disc.