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Jean Baptiste SINGELÉE (1812-1875)
Virtuoso Concert Pieces:

Caprice op. 80 (1862) [3:12]
Fantaisie pour le Saxophone op. 50 (185?) [7:34]
Fantaisie op. 60 (1858) [4:33]
Souvenir de la Savoie – Fantaisie op. 73 (1860) [4:03]
Adagio et Rondo op. 63 (1861) [3:30]
1er Solo de Concert op. 74 (1860) [2:27]
2e Solo de Concert op. 77(1861) [3:15]
Fantaisie Brillante op. 75 (1860) [3:15]
Concertino op. 78 (1861) [3:15]
Concerto op. 57 (1858) [4:59]
3ème Solo de Concert op 83 (1862) [4:19]
me Solo de Concert op 84 (1862) [3:07]
Fantaisie Brillante op. 86 (1862) [3:24]
Fantaisie op. 89 (1863) [4:10]
5ème Solo de Concert op. 91 (1863) [2:53]
6ème Solo de Concert op. 92 (1863) [3:06]
7ème Solo de Concert op. 93 (1863) [4:16]
Fantaisie op. 102 (1864) [4:18]
Christian Peters, saxophones
Yoriko Ikeya, piano
Rec. Fürstliche Reitban Bad Arolsen, on 17-18 and 29 March, 2003 DDD
MD&G 603 1229-2 [71:05]

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The birth of an instrument is an interesting thing. One wonders at the inventor who decides that a new timbre is needed, and that they are the mason destined to create the new device that will be perfect for a goal of which the current musical tools are incapable. Then there is always the resultant music by other composers, more familiar with other instruments that have their own idiomatic constructs which the new instrument only borrows from. The new device is often incapable of emulating the desired effect of the previous instruments, and thus must find its own voice. In the last century, the most prominent example was the electric guitar. In our own time, the computer is being utilized for such a role. This disc is an excellent example of the early exploration of the saxophone.

These works by Jean Baptiste Singelée would be simple treats, and while delightful, would be mostly forgettable were it not for the fact that they were among the first ever written for the saxophone. He would be a man of little if any significance were it not for his embracing of the early instrument, mostly due to his befriending of the inventor Adolphe Sax. However, due to the significance of the development of the repertoire of this instrument that would be so instrumental in the sounds of the following century, these pieces gain both in stature and in prominence. Indeed, without these pieces it is conceivable that there would have been no Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, or Gerry Mulligan, as their primary mode of expression would have been taken from them nearly a century before they would come to prominence.

In addition, the current performers are beyond competent. Christian Peters, playing soprano, alto, tenor and baritone saxophones, displays a love for the classical roots of his instrument. As the instrument came so late to prominence, it is rare to find a musician of such obvious talent interested in these works. One would venture that the great majority of those devoting their lives to the saxophone would find refuge in the world of 20th century music.

Peters here exhibits an obvious affinity for these early works from the incubation of his instrument. He is competently accompanied by Yoriko Ikeya on piano, though the works are hardly demanding. That being said, they very much reflect the time in which they were written. Expect no particularly spectacular virtuosity on the featured saxophone. There were no saxophone virtuosi in 1860, nor were the instruments themselves capable of the acrobatic agilities of the bebop era. The melodies are derived from string or vocal works of the romantic era. They are simple, refined and comfortable; they might remind the listener of works of folk music. If anything, they are conservative for the 1860s, as Wagner had already progressed beyond this style of music. These works could easily have been done by a student of Schumann thirty years earlier, were it not for the saxophone itself as the object of experimentation.

All of that being said, were it not for the fact that these are the works that show the birth of the saxophone’s repertory, there would be no reason to purchase them. They are not otherwise notable. This disc is recommended both for musicologists interested in the early history of the saxophone and its development, and in lovers of the obscure. Those who love their Cannonball Adderly will find themselves bored by the pieces on this disc, no matter how remarkably performed. The same can be said of the lovers of Singelée’s contemporaries, such as Wagner, Chopin, Verdi or Smetana. Any of these composers would display more ingenuity in composition if not instrumentation.

This album is an interesting one, and well recorded. It is highly listenable. However, it is not among the great albums of our own time, nor are the works presented among the great works of their own era. If purchased for a saxophone player or a true saxophone lover, this may become an album that they would enjoy. For the casual lover of romantic-era music, this is merely an oddity.

Patrick Gary

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