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Ballades for Saxophone and Orchestra
Henri TOMASI (1901-1971) Ballade for saxophone and orchestra (1938) [15.31]
Frank MARTIN (1890-1974) Ballade for saxophone and orchestra (1938) [14.45]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937) orch. A HOEREE Habanera for saxophone and chamber orchestra [3.04]
Astor PIAZZOLLA (1921-1992) adapted Theodore KERKEZOS Tango Suite for saxophone and orchestra (Preludio; Fuga; Misterio; Fuga; Oblivión; Adios Nonino; Libertango) [22.00]
Dimitris DRAGATAKIS (1914-2001) Ballade for saxophone and strings [2.56] (world premičre recording)
Pedro ITTURALDE (b.1929) orch. Javier ITTURALDE Czárdás for saxophone and orchestra [7.35] (world premičre recording)
Theodore Kerkezos (saxophone)
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Roberto Minczuk
rec. 8/9 November 2003, Heraklion, Greece. DDD
NAXOS 8.557454 [66’13]


Surely given the enormous versatility, range and power of the saxophone there should be as many concertos for the instrument as for the violin? Sadly of course there are not but here is a disc that advances the cause of the saxophone as a soloist in front of an orchestra.

The astutely compiled programme includes a Ravel transcription, some fashionable Piazzolla in a suite arranged from some of his best known pieces and a substantial work by arguably Switzerland's major contributor to twentieth century composition, Frank Martin. Lesser known but nevertheless a winner of the Prix de Rome (in 1927) is the prolific Corsican Frenchman Henri Tomasi. The disc is completed by worthwhile works by the Greek Dragatakis and the Spaniard Iturralde whose work crossed over into the jazz sphere.

The programme is attractive enough but what really makes this disc a winner is the great solo playing of Theodore Kerkezos. The solo playing is varied, subtle and extremely sensitive to shifting moods; as needed, Kerkezos plays with broad power and with delicate inflection. Ravel’s Habanera might have been written for the saxophone, so idiomatic does it sound in Kerkezos’s hands.

This disc is worth its modest price for the performance of the Piazzolla pieces where the use of the saxophone gives them even more of a film noir quality than usual. This particular collection of pieces works well as a suite in this arrangement. The fugal pieces, perhaps unexpected from Piazzolla, are strongly characterized. As ever, Oblivion casts its melancholic spell (how was it used in its original setting in a film of Henry V?). Strong accounts of the popular Adios Nonino and Libertango are adorned by some subtly haunting improvisations.

Tomasi’s Ballade juxtaposes rhapsodic music redolent of the warmth of Provence with a breezy French neoclassical jig. Martin’s piece offers more substantial fare in his characteristically intense style, the orchestration (strings with percussion and piano) being chosen to contrast well with the wind soloist. This is perhaps the strongest piece on the CD but even the slighter works are very well worth more than one listen. I particularly enjoyed Itturalde’s stereotypical but lively Czárdás which references Brahms' Hungarian Dances, Monte's Czárdás (perhaps inevitably) and, slightly less expectedly, the Tango-Ballade from Die Dreigroschenoper, hinting at the relationship between gypsy and Argentinian tango music made explicit by such bands as Zum and Lakatos.

An earlier Naxos disc featuring  Theodore Kerkezos was welcomed on this site (see review) and I have absolutely no hesitation in recommending this one equally.

Roger Blackburn


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