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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



Jacques IBERT (1890-1962)
Concertino da Camera (1935) [12.49]
Frank MARTIN (1890-1974)

Ballade pour Saxophone et Orchestre (1938) [15.57]
Lars-Erik LARSSON (1890-1962)

Konsert för Saxofon och Stråkorkester (1934) [27.07]
John-Edward Kelly (saxophone)
Ostrobohnian Chamber Orchestra/Juha Kangas
Rec Snellman-Saal Kokkola, Finland, June 4 & 6 1991
ARTE NOVA 74321-27786-2 [49.48]

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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 orchestra.

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 instrumentís 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 Kellyís 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.

Aidan Twomey


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