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Façades
Rodney ROGERS (b.1953)
Lessons of the Sky [9:37]
Robert MUCZYNSKI (b.1929)
Sonata for Alto Saxophone and Piano, Op. 29 (1970) [8:09]
Colin MACDONALD
Here Again (1999) [4:00]
Philip GLASS (b.1937)
Façades (1981) [9:13]
Christopher PAINTER (b.1962)
Sonata for Alto Saxophone & Piano, Op. 56 [18:18]
Graham FITKIN (b.1963)
Glass (1988) [3:23]

Lara James (saxophones); Jeremy Young (piano); Kathryn Price (cello)
Sinfonia Viva/Nicholas Kok
rec. August, October 2006, Ty Cerdd Studio, Wakes Millennium Centre and Derby Assembly Roms/Serendipity Studio [5]. DDD
SIGNUM SIGCD158 [51:40]

 

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This disc of works by living composers opens with the intoxicating sound of the soprano saxophone, with its directness and purity heard in American composer Rodney Rogers’ Lessons of the Sky. This is a varied work of almost 10 minutes duration, which uses fragments and phrases which are repeated and developed. There is a central slow section which gives a lovely sense of variety, and the music seems to have its own buoyant momentum.

Robert Muczynski’s Sonata is much darker in comparison, partly due to the change to an alto saxophone. Muczynski is of eastern European descent but was born in the United States. His slow lines are powerfully expressive and hypnotic while his fast music is strongly rhythmic and biting. Lara James handles the slow movement with a wonderful sense of shape, and the jaunty Allegro energico is played with drive and had me bopping along from the opening bars. Jeremy Young’s piano playing is precise and controlled throughout. 

Here Again is a short work for soprano saxophone and cello by Canadian composer Colin MacDonald. The two instruments complement each other well, and here each plays an individual melodic line which weave in and out between the two. This is a good performance, although there are a few minor intonational problems, and the saxophone is slightly stronger than the cello in the balance. 

Façades is perhaps one of the best known contemporary pieces for saxophone and orchestra, and here Philip Glass’s music is well represented. The soft sound of the strings from Sinfonia Viva provides the perfect backdrop for Lara James’ soprano sax. I would perhaps have liked the saxophone to be a little more present in the mix at its opening entry. The multi-tracked saxophone parts are well balanced between themselves, although the ensemble is sometimes a little imprecise with the strings. This music is deceptively simple; in fact it is difficult to get right, and James’ attempt is a good one. 

Christopher Painter’s Sonata is much more contemporary in style and provides a good contrast to the Glass. Commissioned by Lara James, this piece serves as a demonstration of the saxophone in a modern classical context, and receives a convincing performance here. The sensual slow movement is particularly enjoyable, with some beautifully shaped phrases and a subtle jazz influence. James and Young form an excellent partnership and work together well. 

The disc ends with Graham Fitkin’s simple and short Glass, which has a flowing soprano saxophone melody heard over gentle piano chords. This is a highly effective work which is performed very well.

Carla Rees





 


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