Adolphe Sax created his Frankenstein instrument around
1840, cobbled together from bits of the wind and brass sections. Despite,
or perhaps because of its distinctive timbre, it has never really taken
off in the orchestra in the way he hoped. Richard Strauss, for one,
predicted that the baritone would replace the contra-bassoon, but the
sax found its natural home in the jazz band rather than the symphony
Of the major composers only Debussy gave the instrument
any attention, and even he hardly poured his heart and soul into his
commission for the instrument. Hence the repertoire is limited to a
few key concertos, the two most renowned featured on this disc. And
listening to these concertos, it is hard not to feel that the format
does not suit the instrument. Strait-jacketed into pure tuning and rhythmic
correctness, the instrument’s lack of variety of tone colour is a major
hindrance. For this listener, two minutes of Coltrane or Adderly provides
more interest than any concerto.
Nevertheless, for those that like saxophone concertos,
these are well chosen. Jacques Ibert, a Prix de Rome winner in his student
days, became renowned as an administrator in the Parisian music world.
He wrote in a delightful neo-classical manner (his Homage à
Mozart gives a strong hint where his sympathies pointed), and had
a kindred spirit in Jean Françaix. His wind concertos, for flute
and this one for saxophone, are of fiendish difficulty and high jollity.
The Ballade by Frank Martin is an excellent
work, utterly typical of this fastidious Swiss composer and reminiscent
of Concerto for 7 Wind Instruments. Brooding and dramatic, it
features an almost concertante piano part, and skilfully pits the athletic
solo parts against a more lugubrious string section.
Larsson is a Swedish composer, unknown to me. This
concerto is well written, with some interesting effects to enliven the
sound of the solo instrument. It is not a concerto to frighten the horses,
and there is nothing very original about it, but sax enthusiasts will
find this a pleasant work.
John-Edward Kelly’s playing is excellent throughout.
Technically secure and agile and solid in intonation even in the highest
register, frequently demanded in these works. The accompaniment of the
little known Finnish orchestra is satisfactory. A disc that can be heartily
recommended to saxophone enthusiasts.
Staples of the saxophone repertoire, enlivened by excellent
performances from the soloist. Well worth investigating for sax lovers.