The Alliage Saxophone
Quartet was founded in 1994 by Daniel
Gaulthier, the professor of Classical
Saxophone at Cologne College of Music.
The group works a lot with contemporary
composers, so for this disc they asked
five different composers to write an
operatic paraphrase for them.
While many performers
can draw on a huge back catalogue of
music, the saxophone quartet is a relatively
new phenomenon. Unfortunately, the writing
of operatic paraphrases went out of
fashion with the advent of the gramophone.
So the pieces on this disc try to engage
us in a dialogue about what an operatic
paraphrase might be today. The results
are rather variable.
Japanese composer Jun
Nago’s Rhapsody on Carmen is
written for saxophone quartet and piano.
Nago evidently wanted to avoid the feeling
of the traditional wind band operatic
arrangements. Unfortunately, the balance
between the piano and the saxophonists
is not ideal with the piano being pushed
into the background when the four instrumentalists
are playing, thus relegating some of
Nago’s harmony to a lowly supporting
role. The arrangement works best when
Nago is doing a direct transcription
of Bizet and some sections of the work
are positively toe-tapping. But Nago
relies rather too much on arpeggiated
piano transition passages. Nago also
includes a number of vaguely Spanish
references from other composers, which
is rather confusing. At 15 minutes,
the piece somewhat overstays its welcome
given its rather poor overall structure;
some pruning would be welcome. But it
receives a fine performance from the
quartet and pianist Jang Eun Bae.
The overture from Rossini’s
Il barbiere di Siviglia was arranged
by quartet player Sebastian Pottmeier.
This is a good, straightforward transcription
with no attempts at clever effects.
The quartet plays the piece well, if
a trifle deliberately. Inevitably, the
result sounds rather smooth in a late
19th century manner, but
after all it is a transcription.
In the booklet the
notes say that Andreas Hilner intended
his Fantasy after Tosca to focus
on Tosca herself; what we hear is the
overture, the sacristan from the opening
of Act 1, Cavaradossi’s big Act 1 aria,
the love duet with Tosca and finally
‘E luce van stelle’. But we also hear
a great deal of Puccini’s transitional
passages, rather inventively re-scored
for saxophone quartet. Hilner has been
imaginative in his re-scoring, but at
15 minutes long the piece feels as if
Hilner were deliberately avoiding the
well known parts of Puccini’s score.
And that is definitely not the role
of the operatic paraphrase. Here again
though, the playing is stunning and
the four saxophonists blend beautifully.
Time and again one hears a passage written
for other instruments and the players
here make it sound as if it was meant
to be played by four saxophones.
Sylvain Dedenon’s Suite
after Themes of Porgy and Bess is
relatively straight-forward and all
the more enjoyable for that. Dedenon
does not engage in any fancy structural
connections between the various melodies.
He simply devotes a movement each to
Jasbo Brown, Summertime,
There’s a boat leaving soon and
It ain’t necessarily so. In each
of these movements he presents Gershwin’s
melodies pretty straight before elaborating
them in his own sympathetic manner.
Only in the finale does he throw things
up in the air and mix them a bit. Dedenon
is a trumpeter who conducts the Bischheim
Big Band and his experience with this
repertoire shows in his confident handling
of what will and will not work in this
type of arrangement.
Japanese composer Chikage
Imai had rather more esoteric ideas
in her piece Seductive Realm
after Die Zauberflöte. Again this
is written for saxophone quartet and
piano and I had the same reservations
about the viability of the balance between
the quartet and the piano. It seems
a failure of imagination that the composer
could not do without the piano to fill
in. Imai has constructed a pleasant
pot-pourri in which familiar melodies
come and go, sometimes breaking off
suddenly; sometimes Imai adds her own
elaborations and ornamentation. I felt
that this piece was rather more successful
than Nago’s Carmen rhapsody,
but that Imai has not quite got the
balance right between simple directness
There is some stunning
saxophone playing on the disc and these
arrangements can be pure fun, when the
arranger is not taking things too seriously.