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Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

 

 

Veya Saxophone Quartet: Homemade
Gabriel JACKSON (b.1962)
Rhythm and Blues (1993) [14:30]
Barry RUSSELL

Three Improvisations (2003) [6:02]
John CASKEN
(b.1949)

Nearly Distant (2000) [7:31]
Simon MURRAY

Pierre Musicale [4:25] *
Graham FITKIN
(b.1963)

Stub (1991) [9:58]
Mark WHITE

New Work [6:38]
Veya Saxophone Quartet: Mark White (soprano saxophone), Fiona Astbury (alto saxophone), Jenny Lyons (tenor saxophone), Simon Murray (baritone saxophone); * Alexandra Tiffin (mezzo)
rec. October 2005, William Hulme Grammar School, Manchester
VSQ 2006 [49:07]
 

The growth of the repertoire for saxophone quartet has been very striking in the last twenty or thirty years. Building on early quartets such as those by Florent Schmitt, Alexander Glazunov, Jean Francaix and (characteristically out on a limb) Henry Cowell, many enterprising quartets have commissioned, or more informally ‘stimulated’, the creation of quartets. Examples include those by such as Gordon Jacob, Peter Racine Fricker and Richard Rodney Bennett or – illustrative of the form’s stylistic flexibility – works for saxophone quartet by, for example, Philip Glass, Louis Andriessen (Facing Death), Joby Talbot (Blue Cell), Lukas Foss, Charles Wuorinen, Iannis Xenakis (XAS), Michael Torke (July) and Terry Riley (Chanting the Light of Foresight). Yet it can’t really be said that a ‘canon’ has yet been formed; perhaps it is simply too early. It will be fascinating to follow future developments.
 
It is into such a context that this debut CD by the Veya Saxophone Quartet makes its way. The Veya Quartet was formed in 2000 at the Royal Northern College of Music; just as the Apollo Saxophone Quartet were in 1985. There are interesting details about the Veya on their website.
 
On this CD they play three works which must be strong candidates for a British ‘canon’ of music for saxophone quartet – Gabriel Jackson’s Rhythm and Blues, John Caskin’s Nearly Distant and Graham Fitkin’s Stub, two works composed by members of the quartet – Simon Murray’s Pierre Musicale and Mark White’s New Work, along with the Three Improvisations of Barry Russell.
 
Jackson’s Rhythm and Blues was commissioned by Andrew Gottschalk and the Delta Saxophone Quartet. It’s as full of jazz inflections as its title would lead one to expect, and each of the instruments is foregrounded in turn – the sections for solo baritone are particularly effective - in a piece which runs through a considerable range of moods, before coming to a quietly meditative conclusion. There’s some fine work here from the quartet, both as soloists and as an ensemble (not least in some bagpipe-like passages!). John Casken’s Nearly Distant draws on an earlier work – Distant Variations – written for saxophone quartet and wind orchestra, but radically reshapes the music. This quartet work was premiered by the Apollo Saxophone Quartet; it is marked by the rhythmic vivacity and demanding interplay of most of its ensemble passages, and by the contrasting passages of gentler lyricism. The ensemble work is very well handled, but some of the quiet passages might perhaps have been a little more expressive. Graham Fitkin’s Stub (another work commissioned by the Delta Quartet) has an insistent momentum which can sound almost mechanical, but which gets a very ‘human’ treatment here. This is one of the stand-out performances on the CD.
 
Among the less established pieces, Barry Russell’s Three Improvisations are witty and elegant miniatures, and Simon Murray’s Pierre Musicale sets one of the prose poems from the 1912 collection – Stèles - by that remarkable man Victor Segalen, novelist, archaeologist, poet and friend of Debussy and Gide. The poems of Stèles have a strange, almost hieratic impersonality about them, like elliptical and obscure inscriptions on ancient stones, and Murray’s setting, sung with a kind of distanced grandeur by Alexandra Tiffin, captures something of the poem’s quality, even if the musical images of the poem seem to cry out for a greater variety of sounds and textures than a saxophone quartet can provide. Using a pre-recorded backing tape, Mark White’s New Work is a generally rather quiet piece, which creates and explores some attractive and rich textures of sound in a pleasant, if rather meandering, fashion. Though all have their interest, perhaps no one of these three works is likely to gain admittance to the ‘canon’ as it establishes itself.
 
The booklet notes are rather brief and somewhat short on dates - I have supplemented them, where I could, above. Sadly, the booklet provides no text of Segalen’s beautiful poem - those interested might like to know that a text, with English translation, is included in French Poetry, 1820-1950, Penguin Classics, 1990, edited by William Rees.
 
Interesting repertoire, played very competently, if sometimes without quite the highest flair or certainty of vision. But such qualities will surely come. On the evidence of this CD, saxophone quartets such as the Delta and the Apollo will soon have a serious rival.

Glyn Pursglove
 

 


 



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