an age of instant downloads and the waning influence of major
record labels it’s hardly surprising that more and more artists
are going solo. That way they can decide what to record and,
most important, they can take control of their own marketing,
Pianists Joanna McGregor and the Labèque sisters have done
it with SoundCircus and KML respectively, and now Yorkshire-born
saxophonist Christian Forshaw has taken the plunge with Integra
Records. The latter’s catalogue is small – Reflections
is only their third disc – but at least it’s
not all run-of-the-mill repertoire.
first two discs – Sanctuary
certainly caught the public ear, both making it onto Amazon’s
classical chart. I must confess I don’t care much for such
rankings but they must be very reassuring for the artists
involved. It’s a business after all, and Integra are savvy
enough to offer downloads via iTunes and CD Baby as well.
-century approach is carried through to Integra’s
slick, contemporary-looking website and cover-art design.
And it doesn’t stop there; the opening bars of the first
track are executed with the same boldness and vigour, qualities
that dominate the entire collection. Some listeners may feel
the sax is much too close for comfort and that the piano
is too distant. In spite of that one adjusts to the balance
Boutry, who studied with Nadia Boulanger and Marguerite Long,
has penned a delightful Divertimento
with wit and general joie de vivre.
is no slouch either, coping admirably with the rhythm and
reach of the piece, especially in the outer movements that
frame a surprisingly soulful Andante. An encouraging start,
but even at this stage I craved a bit more colour and character.
The bright, rather shallow, recording is partly to blame
for this, although Forshaw’s playing also sounds monochromatic
Jean Françaix’s Cinque danses exotiques
the sax player
certainly gets to show off his skill at phrasing and articulation.
After the restless syncopation of ‘Pombiche’ – a South American
dance based on the Merengue – Forshaw gives us a seductive
little Brazilian number called ‘Baião’. Plenty of languor
here, the piano providing the repetitive figures on which
the dance is based. Short but sweet, as is the ensuing ‘Samba
lente’. The players are reasonably well blended, although
the sax sounds a little unsteady at the start of ‘Merengue’.
the whole, though, Forshaw’s approach to these dances is
too unyielding. Some might argue that’s the composer’s problem – Europeans
don’t ‘get’ these elusive rhythms – but anyone who has heard
Bernstein conducting Milhaud will beg to differ. No such
issues with Eugène Bozza’s Aria,
which is cool, cultivated
and beautifully voiced. There is a formal – somewhat steely – elegance
to the piece that suits Forshaw style very well. Ditto the
more florid writing of the study that follows. There is a
strong pedagogic element here, in which case Forshaw proves
to be a star pupil. His dexterity and evenness of tone are
impressive, the breathy lower notes a welcome antidote to
the rather chaste little Aria.
Desenclos’s Prélude, cadence et finale
is one of the
more expansive pieces on this disc. Forshaw’s alto sax rambles
and rhapsodises to great effect in the first movement, bracketed
by some equally arresting interjections from his pianist.
This is concentrated stuff, a blend of intellectual rigour
and dreamy romance. And although Robert Planel’s mellifluous Prélude
has a lower octane rating it does draw
some transported playing from Forshaw. There are moments
of legato-style loveliness here, and the concluding Saltarella
brings the piece to a spirited close.
these dazzling displays I felt a creeping sense of dissatisfaction.
Where are the the saxophone’s multitudinous colours and textures?
Just sample the Tetraphonics disc of 20th
sax quartets (see review
and you’re in another sound-world entirely. After that Forshaw’s Scaramouche
brittle and hard edged, very different from the jaunt and
jangle of Pekka Savijoki’s version on BIS (CD209). The latter’s
reedier sax speaks with a genuine French accent and, more
important, the Finn finds an elasticity of rhythm that is
hard to resist. Ditto his Cinq danses exotiques,
offer a whole new range of instrumental colours and rhythmic
possibilities, ranging from an exhilarating ‘Pombiche’ through
to a wonderfully jazzy ‘Merengue’.
afraid hearing Savijoki’s idiomatic performances popped my
last balloon. Not even Bozza’s Improvisation et caprice
the singing qualities of Gabriel Grovlez’s Sarabande et
could get me back in the party mood.
Jolivet’s crystalline Fantasie
it’s another of those bravura pieces that
sounds much too relentless in Forshaw’s hands. As always
the close, almost aggressive, recording does the music no
your own record label is a bit like vanity publishing, and
carries with it the same risks. For instance, where are the
checks and balances, the other points of view that artists
need to hear from time to time? I’m not suggesting that’s
necessarily the case here, but I sensed the playing – and
recording – would have benefited from a little more creative
rigour and imagination, the kind of input that artists themselves
aren’t best placed to provide. Without this there are apt
to be too many compromises, which might explain why the Labèques’ Ravel
disc was such a disappointment – see review
when you’re out on your own promotion can so easily seem
like self-promotion. Yes, the music is
but when the CD booklet contains not one but three full-page
portraits of the artist and not a single word about the music
one has to ask where Forshaw’s priorities lie.
technique, but seek out Pekka Savijoki if you want to hear
this music played with real punch and personality.