One of the most exciting ensembles to emerge in the last century is the saxophone quartet. Among the notable groups based in Europe is the Signum Saxophone Quartet, four musicians who look like they come out of a pop band like The Beatles – cool and hip – but even more, deliver classical music for the instrument with impeccable sensitivity and talent. Blaž Kemperle, Hayrapet Arakelyan, Alan Lužar and Guerino Bellarosa formed the group in 2006 after meeting in Cologne, Germany. Fifteen years later, they have once again piqued the ears of the music world with the release of their third album Echoes.
Released by Deustche Grammophon on January 15th, 2021, the forty-minute album is equally stunning for its high performance quality and exceptional programming. From Renaissance and Romantic compositions to works by living classical composers, the album covers an impressive range of styles and genres.
Even more dynamic is their collaboration with cellist Hila Karni and soprano Grace Davidson. Signum’s arrangement of the “Pie Jesu” from Fauré’s Requiem preserves the grandiose and expansive sound of the original. Karni’s lush expressivity permeates Signum’s arrangements of Hindemith’s Trauermusik, a suite for viola and string orchestra, and Max Richter’s On the Nature of Daylight, originally for string quartet. Karni suggests an entire orchestra with her expansive sound, which blended seamlessly with the quartet.
Echoes highlights contemporary interpretations of other older works, including arrangements of music by John Dowland and Tomaso Albinoni, as well as an arrangement of contemporary composer Peter Gregson’s interpretation of the “Allemande” from Bach’s Fourth Cello Suite. Other tracks feature arrangements of the first movement of Phillip Glass’s String Quartet No. 3, Joep Beving’s Ab Ovo, and Pēteris Vasks’s Songs of Love IV: Then Time Stopped.
Every track on the album features exquisite performances with flawless stylistic delivery and homogeneity of sound. Perhaps the best piece that best represents these qualities is the last, Ciudades: Sarajevo (Bosnia and Herzegovina). Living composer Guillermo Lago wrote Ciudades specifically for saxophone quartet. This becomes immediately clear as Signum does not hesitate to dive deep into a technically impressive and emotionally powerful performance that takes the audience through an array of beautifully orchestrated effects.
Sarajevo starts with a solemn, chantlike drone and melody from two players while the others taper in and out of the background with a variety of breath effects, creating a calming, eerily hypnotic atmosphere. Halfway through, the quartet boasts their technical dexterity and control via a fast but quiet dovetailing of arpeggios. The performance is transcendent.
Ciudades: Sarajevo beautifully concludes a beautiful album, peacefully leading the listener on a transformative journey to a contemplative, meditative state.