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(b. 1964) Rhapsody on Carmen de George Bizet
Gioachino ROSSINI (1792 – 1868) Overture from Il barbiere di Siviglia (arranged Sebastian Pottmeier) [7.38]
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)/Andreas HILNER Fantasy after Tosca [15.03]
George GERSHWIN (1898-1937)/Sylvain DEDENON Suite after Themes of Porgy and Bess [15.45]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)/Chikage IMAI Seductive Realm [10.58]
Alliage Quartet (Daniel Gaulthier (soprano saxophone), Lutz Koppetsch (alto saxophone), Martin Hilner (tenor saxophone), Sebastian Pottmeier (baritone saxophone)) Jang Eun Bae (piano)
Recorded 15-17 June 2004, Historische Reitbahn Bad Arolsen


The Alliage Saxophone Quartet was founded in 1994 by Daniel Gaulthier, the professor of Classical Saxophone at Cologne College of Music. The group works a lot with contemporary composers, so for this disc they asked five different composers to write an operatic paraphrase for them.

While many performers can draw on a huge back catalogue of music, the saxophone quartet is a relatively new phenomenon. Unfortunately, the writing of operatic paraphrases went out of fashion with the advent of the gramophone. So the pieces on this disc try to engage us in a dialogue about what an operatic paraphrase might be today. The results are rather variable.

Japanese composer Jun Nago’s Rhapsody on Carmen is written for saxophone quartet and piano. Nago evidently wanted to avoid the feeling of the traditional wind band operatic arrangements. Unfortunately, the balance between the piano and the saxophonists is not ideal with the piano being pushed into the background when the four instrumentalists are playing, thus relegating some of Nago’s harmony to a lowly supporting role. The arrangement works best when Nago is doing a direct transcription of Bizet and some sections of the work are positively toe-tapping. But Nago relies rather too much on arpeggiated piano transition passages. Nago also includes a number of vaguely Spanish references from other composers, which is rather confusing. At 15 minutes, the piece somewhat overstays its welcome given its rather poor overall structure; some pruning would be welcome. But it receives a fine performance from the quartet and pianist Jang Eun Bae.

The overture from Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia was arranged by quartet player Sebastian Pottmeier. This is a good, straightforward transcription with no attempts at clever effects. The quartet plays the piece well, if a trifle deliberately. Inevitably, the result sounds rather smooth in a late 19th century manner, but after all it is a transcription.

In the booklet the notes say that Andreas Hilner intended his Fantasy after Tosca to focus on Tosca herself; what we hear is the overture, the sacristan from the opening of Act 1, Cavaradossi’s big Act 1 aria, the love duet with Tosca and finally ‘E luce van stelle’. But we also hear a great deal of Puccini’s transitional passages, rather inventively re-scored for saxophone quartet. Hilner has been imaginative in his re-scoring, but at 15 minutes long the piece feels as if Hilner were deliberately avoiding the well known parts of Puccini’s score. And that is definitely not the role of the operatic paraphrase. Here again though, the playing is stunning and the four saxophonists blend beautifully. Time and again one hears a passage written for other instruments and the players here make it sound as if it was meant to be played by four saxophones.

Sylvain Dedenon’s Suite after Themes of Porgy and Bess is relatively straight-forward and all the more enjoyable for that. Dedenon does not engage in any fancy structural connections between the various melodies. He simply devotes a movement each to Jasbo Brown, Summertime, There’s a boat leaving soon and It ain’t necessarily so. In each of these movements he presents Gershwin’s melodies pretty straight before elaborating them in his own sympathetic manner. Only in the finale does he throw things up in the air and mix them a bit. Dedenon is a trumpeter who conducts the Bischheim Big Band and his experience with this repertoire shows in his confident handling of what will and will not work in this type of arrangement.

Japanese composer Chikage Imai had rather more esoteric ideas in her piece Seductive Realm after Die Zauberflöte. Again this is written for saxophone quartet and piano and I had the same reservations about the viability of the balance between the quartet and the piano. It seems a failure of imagination that the composer could not do without the piano to fill in. Imai has constructed a pleasant pot-pourri in which familiar melodies come and go, sometimes breaking off suddenly; sometimes Imai adds her own elaborations and ornamentation. I felt that this piece was rather more successful than Nago’s Carmen rhapsody, but that Imai has not quite got the balance right between simple directness and artifice.

There is some stunning saxophone playing on the disc and these arrangements can be pure fun, when the arranger is not taking things too seriously.

Robert Hugill

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