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Henri TOMASI (1901-1971) Ballade for saxophone and orchestra (1938) [15.31]
Frank MARTIN (1890-1974) Ballade for saxophone and orchestra (1938) [14.45]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937) orch. A HOEREE Habanera for saxophone and chamber orchestra [3.04]
Astor PIAZZOLLA (1921-1992) adapted Theodore KERKEZOS Tango Suite for saxophone and orchestra (Preludio; Fuga; Misterio; Fuga; Oblivión; Adios Nonino; Libertango) [22.00]
Dimitris DRAGATAKIS (1914-2001) Ballade for saxophone and strings () [2.56]
Pedro ITTURALDE (b.1929) orch. Javier ITTURALDE Czárdás for saxophone and orchestra [7.35]
Theodore Kerkezos (saxophone)
London PO/Roberto Minczuk
rec. London 8-9 Nov 2003
NAXOS 8.557454 [66.13]

Here we have three ballades, a habanera, a tango suite and a czardas; a case of ‘song and dance’. This makes for a well chosen, contrasted and unusual selection. Such a pity that the Holbrooke saxophone concerto (circa 1927) does not appear. It would have fitted well with the ‘song and dance’ theme.

What an impressive composer is Marseilles-born Henri Tomasi. I have sung his praises before. His 15 minute Ballade (1938) for alto saxophone and orchestra has a lullingly lovely andante - rather like a cross between Ravel's Infanta and Butterworth's Shropshire Lad. The Gigue darts and dances away hysterically sprinting and effervescent provoking a few thoughts about Holst's St Paul's Suite with a French Mediterranean accent. Kerkezos's suave and gamin playing turns the lights up. The grand and scintillating final statement, at 13.40, sounds part Hollywood and part St Tropez. Although there are three sections to the Ballade they are not separately tracked here. The Ballade was written for Tomasi's friend Marcel Mule. Its 'plot' is a reflection of a poem about a tragic clown. The poem, quoted in full in the notes, is by Suzanne Malard, Tomasi's wife. There is more to Tomasi than this but the Ballade, by itself, is a memorable gem; a natural as a display piece for Young Musician of the Year competitions.

The effervescing Tomasi Ballade compares with the often typically sombre and miasmic Frank Martin Ballade (also written in 1938 but for Sigurd Rascher). The piece brightens for a brief central interlude at 5.00 but still retains a very grim jaw-set and, kicking over the traces, ends extrovert too.

Tango and saxophone; never mind the bandoneon, the sax seems made for the tango and its related mood. The assembled Piazzolla suite is in seven separately tracked episodes. There is a shadowy Preludio, a winged athletic Bachian Fuga and Fugata and a grave Misterio with solo viola. Oblivion features a Nyman-like ‘raindrop’ piano figuration and a sentimental song. Adios nonino gives vent to aggression and populist big band sentiment.

The Ravel is an arr by Hoérée of a sleepily nondescript Habanera (not the one from Rapsodie Espagnole) and is over almost before it began. Interesting to have and hear but no revelation.

The Dragatakis Ballade muses like Goossens' By the Tarn (a disregarded gem) reflective under rather dark skies. A winning piece.

Itturalde's Czárdás was clearly written by a man of the theatre with the grand gesture coming as second nature. The dreamily sinuous Lassu section uses a melody that sounds like Lara's Theme from the Dr Zhivago music. The Friss episode is a volatile mercury fuse complete with percussive effects hit off the body of the instrument. It is totally in keeping with the tradition and is topped off with a final exultant shout from everyone.

The Dragatakis and Itturalde are world premiere recordings.

Wide-ranging moods from the mercurial mastery of the Tomasi to the songful Dragatakis to the exuberant Czardas and the predominantly Protestant sobriety of Martin to the tango world of Piazzolla. Very attractive.

Rob Barnett

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