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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    

David MASLANKA (born 1943)
Sonata for Alto Saxophone and Piano (1988)a
Larry BELL (born 1952)
Mahler in Blue Light Op.43 (1996)b
Russell PETERSON (born 1969)
Concerto for Alto Saxophone and Percussion Orchestra (2000)c
Russell Peterson (alto saxophone); Diane Tremaine (cello)b; Douglas Schneider (piano)ab; Tri-College Percussion Ensemblec; David Eylerc
Recorded: Concordia College, Moorhead, Minnesota, July 1999 and October 2000
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Maslanka’s Sonata for Alto Saxophone and Piano is the first in a series of works for saxophone. This includes pieces for saxophone quartet, a concerto for alto saxophone and wind ensemble, Hell’s Gate for three saxophones and band as well as a work for tenor saxophone and string quartet, to mention but a few. The Alto Saxophone Sonata is a substantial work in the fairly traditional moderate-slow-fast pattern. The first movement, opens with a really fine tune and also has some angry outbursts disrupting the easy-going nature of the main theme. The music, however, has some intense and often abrupt climaxes. The slow movement is “a broad soliloquy” with an intricate development of the main theme of the first movement as a contrasting central section. The third movement is a large-scale rondo “owing a tip of the hat to Allan Pettersson’s Twelfth Symphony” (the composer’s words). This long movement overflows with restless energy, though ending with an ethereal coda. A fairly impressive piece of music on all counts, and I really wonder what Maslanka’s other saxophone works sound like. (Incidentally, Mountain Roads for saxophone quartet is available on Albany.)

Larry Bell’s name may be somewhat more familiar, since some of his music is available on disc: North/South R 1018 (cello music), VMM 3037 (Piano Concerto Op.33) and VMM 3016 (Sacred Symphonies Op.23). Mahler in Blue Light Op.43 for alto saxophone, cello and piano, completed in 1996, is based on an instrumental fragment from Der Abschied, a movement of Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde. The composer remarks that the four movements may in fact be viewed as an elaborate passacaglia on Mahler’s fragment. The Mahler material is intricately woven into the music, often to the point of being totally unrecognisable. Mahler’s tune is more clearly apparent in the third movement. The ‘blue light’ refers to the saxophone’s colour. This is a real compositional tour de force as well as being a quite substantial piece of music.

Peterson’s Concerto for Alto Saxophone and Percussion Orchestra is in three movements, again in the traditional moderate-slow-fast mould, designed so as to bring out the saxophone’s varied registers and the performer’s playing. The first movement is mostly based on percussion ostinati redolent of, say, Reich’s Minimalism supporting the saxophone’s freely unfolding melodies. The central, mostly slow movement starts as a dreamy, almost improvised duo of saxophone and marimba, and develops as a sometimes impassioned song without words. The work is capped by an energetic dance-like rondo including a short percussion cadenza. A worthwhile, if rather eclectic rarity; and, first and foremost, a formidable display of Peterson’s multi-facetted talents.

Russell Peterson is a formidable player with an impeccable technique and a wide tonal variety. These qualities serve these works well. He is superbly partnered by his colleagues. The whole is well recorded, though a shade too brightly to my taste, but nothing serious enough to spoil one’s enjoyment of this fairly unusual, though very attractive selection. Well worth investigating.

Hubert Culot

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