Music review: Signum Saxophone Quartet & Kristian Winther

An enchanting saxophone showcase.

Germany’s acclaimed Signum Saxophone Quartet is clearly winning new fans on its debut tour of Australia. Presented by Musica Viva, this performance showcases an enchanting kaleidoscope of music arranged for the sax. It’s also a study in musical synergy. And whilst they are now based in Cologne, they are not German, as they told the audience, being two Slovenians and two Italians.

Named after its inventor, Adolphe Sax, who launched the instrument in Brussels in 1840, with a first patent in 1846, the saxophone has never really been accepted as a fully fledged member of the orchestra. Think of the sax and it’s most likely jazz, dance, or film music that comes to mind. The four players on stage – Blaž Kemperle playing soprano sax, Jacopo Taddei on alto, Alan Lužar on tenor, and Guerino Bellarosa on baritone – quickly proved the instrument’s colourful versatility and range.

And yes, Signum does give a wonderful display of jazz inspired music, with pieces by Chick Corea, Leonard Bernstein, and George Gershwin. Their playing of the ‘Symphonic Dances’from West Side Story was taut and punchy with all the passion you want to hear in this legendary score. And, as they said, it was Leonard Bernstein who first fully appreciated the connection between classical music and jazz.

The performance opened with the delightful Italian Concerto by JSBach. Originally written for keyboard, with this arrangement for saxophone by Katsuki Tochio, this is curiously neither Italian nor actually a concerto. Nevertheless, it was a perfect choice to demonstrate Signum’s verve and clarity. There was even a hint of a jazz aesthetic in the allegro and andante segueing into the more classical presto.

Next came the highlight piece of the evening, Kurt Weill’s superb Concerto for Violin and Wind Orchestra in a new arrangement by Jessica Wells. This was commissioned by Musica Viva, especially for this Signum series, under the auspices of the Hildegard Project, a program designed to highlight the work of female composers. Wells has an impressive CV as a composer, orchestrator, and arranger across concerts, stage and screen.

The quartet was joined on stage for this piece by Australian violinist Kristian Winther as soloist. Concerto for Violin and Wind Orchestra is renowned for its technical difficulty but Signum and Winter handled it with flair and precision. Wells’ new arrangement displayed a considered touch, showing clarity and balance throughout. The final flourish at the end of the third movement brought rousing applause from the audience.

Read: The changing face of chamber music in Australia

After a well-deserved break, the players returned for half an hour of art and jazz music with the Gershwin, Bernstein, and Corea, leaving the audience richer for the experience.

The Signum Saxophone Quartet has a big following in Europe and I’m sure they have found many new fans, and friends, in Australia thanks to this Musica Viva tour.

Signum Saxophone Quartet with Kristian Winther for Musica Viva
Adelaide Town Hall
10 November 2022

BACH Italian Concerto
WEILL Violin Concerto
GERSHWIN Three Preludes
BERNSTEIN Symphonic Dances from West Side Story

The national tour continues to Perth, Sydney, Canberra, and Melbourne.

Dr Diana Carroll is a writer, speaker, and reviewer based in Adelaide. Her work has been published in newspapers and magazines including the Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian, Woman's Day, and B&T. Writing about the arts is one of her great passions.