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Robert SCHUMANN (1810–1856), arr. Jacques LAROCQUE Piano Quintet op. 44 [28.48]
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809–1847), arr. Hendrik SCHNOKE A Midsummer Night’s Dream, op. 61 [36.43]
Alliage Quartett (Daniel Gauthier – soprano saxophone, Lutz Koppetsch – alto saxophone, Koryun Asatryan – tenor saxophone, Sebastian Pottmeier – baritone saxophone)
Jang-Eun Bae (piano)
rec. 16-18 December 2005, Furstliched Reitbahn Bad Arolsen.

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Adolphe Sax invented a remarkable number of instruments, providing contemporary French composers with a remarkable range of instrumental timbres. John Eliot Gardiner used many of Sax’s inventions in his memorable production of Berlioz’s Les Troyens at the Chatelet Theatre.

One of the instruments that did not feature in this production was the saxophone, Berlioz wrote no major music for the instrument. Sax invented the saxophone with the intention of combining the richly nuanced sound of the clarinet with the radiance of a brass instrument. He applied for the patent of the instrument in 1843 and followed this with a publicity campaign attempting to get the instrument used by contemporary composers. He was successful in a limited way but never really managed to assemble a corpus of work by major composers. There are many might-have-beens; a concerto from Rossini, Wagner writing the opening solo in Act 3 of Tristan und Isolde for a saxophone rather than a cor anglais.

But the unfortunate result is that, with the exception of Ambroise Thomas’s Hamlet and Bizet’s Arlesienne Suite, the saxophone rarely appears nowadays in the concert hall or opera house in 19th century music.

To address this lack, the Alliage Saxophone Quartet have been commissioning new works and transcriptions from various composers. So Jacques Larocque has arranged Schumann’s Piano Quintet for piano and saxophone quartet and Hendrik Schnoke arranged Mendelssohn’s Midsummer’s Night’s Dream music for the same combination.

How you view this disc depends on your attitude to the art of transcription and whether the world of German chamber music is sacrosanct. Throughout the 19th century transcription was an art with flourished as a means of transmission of new and popular music in lieu of records and radios. But earlier, in the baroque era and later, it was quite acceptable to arrange music for whatever group of instruments was available. This is an attitude that persists in the wind band and military band genres where conductors flesh out a limited repertoire with arrangements.

So our main criterion for listening to this recording is, is it successful? First, I must commend the quartet and pianist Jang-Eun Bae for their musicianship. Their playing of both pieces is natural and idiomatic and you never feel that they are struggling to re-invent the music in its new guise.

Inevitably there are losses and gains. The smoothness of the saxophone timbre emphasises the sense of line in all passages, also its inability to play fast ‘string crossing’ passages means that we get some changes of timbre. I felt that the Mendelssohn arrangements worked better than the Schumann, perhaps because the orchestral textures gave the arranger more to work with. It seemed that we were missing less in the Mendelssohn. Schumann’s Piano Quartet came over as a respectable experiment but there were too many places where I felt that I lost out. This was particularly true in the tougher passages, Schumann’s textures seemed to be smoothed out and regularised.

Ultimately the Schumann transcription failed to convince me, I could not quite see what it was for. So if you are interested in the transcription as a modern art or simply fascinated by the saxophone, then this is the disc for you. If you love Schumann’s Piano Quintet in its original form and can’t bear to think of it any other way, then stay well away.

Robert Hugill


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