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Robert SAXTON A yardstick to the stars & other chamber works    Brunel Ensemble/Christopher Austin, with soloists   NMC D065 79 mins

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This generously filled portrait CD surveys Robert Saxton's music between the mid-70s and mid-90s. It takes the form of a well-balanced concert, and you could have a pleasurable and rewarding evening by listening to the first four works before a coffee break, and the rest after the interval.

Saxton has an acute ear and his music is fascinating to hear and easy to enjoy, with or without knowledge of the complex underlying schemes and procedures. He bestrides tonality and recognisable themes with modernist textures and processes. He has his own voice, having assimilated influences which range widely, from the proportional schemes of early English composers to Schoenberg and his successors, and shaped by Saxton's cultural and religious heritage 'within the distinguished British line of Eastern European Jewish artists and thinkers' (David Wright).

In his introductory essay David Wright mentions Carter, and that composer's experiments with independent tempi (as in the Double Concerto for piano and harpsichord) come to mind in the powerful title piece which concludes this programme, inspired by the ancient Greek discovery of trigonometry, enabling measurement of planetary distances proportionally. Saxton's piano (Ian Pace) and string quartet go their separate ways, with a structure and time-cycle representing the planetary orbits and the 'brightness and eternally changing quality of light' (from Robert Saxton's own detailed and illuminating commentaries for each work).

The larger ensemble pieces are separated by a Chacony for the piano left hand (written for Leon Fleisher), Invocation, Dance & Meditation for viola & piano, and Arias for oboe & piano. Saxton's Fantazia for string quartet gave the composer a rare pleasure in which he revelled, a dozen excellent 'first' performances during the 1994 International String Quartet Competition (a triennial event at which I was present, to be held again in London this Spring). In Eloge the excellent Brunel Ensemble from Bristol is joined by Teresa Cahill (soprano) who has a long association with Saxton's music for voice.

Performances throughout, recording and balancing are excellent, and the production displays an admirable attention to detail. The booklet is a model in elegance, comprehensive information and clarity. A very important release, meriting the highest recommendation.


Peter Grahame Woolf


Peter Grahame Woolf

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