Adolph Sax developed
the bass saxophone in 1840, the intention being to produce some
sort of replacement for the rather unsatisfactory ophicleide.
He then went on to develop a whole family of instruments to
go with the bass. This means that saxophones have a remarkably
unanimity of tone and timbre over the whole register.
For this reason, it is perhaps understandable
that groups should wish to perform works in saxophone ensembles.
On this disc, the Sax-Chamber Orchestra performs transcriptions
of works by J.S. Bach. The Sax-Chamber Orchestra is a group
based at the University of Southern Mississippi; they consist
of fourteen players playing instruments ranging from sopranino
to bass. They do not seem to include the final instrument in
the family, the relatively rare contrabass-saxophone.
rather like the idea of transcribing music for a saxophone ensemble;
the nature of the instrument encourages it. The Alliage Saxophone
Quartet have released a number of fine discs of transcriptions.
Unfortunately, I did not find so much appeal in the transcriptions
on this disc, nor did the Sax-Chamber Orchestras performances
are generally steady to plodding and the interpretations, if
they can be called that, so monochrome as to render the different
pieces almost indistinguishable. Neither the transcriptions,
nor the players’ performance shed any light on Bach’s music.
CD liner-notes likens a saxophone ensemble to an organ with
all the stops pulled out. But a good organist will use variations
of texture and register to shed light on the construction of
the music and illuminate it from within. That does not happen
here, everything is played in a uniform manner so we get no
sense of the construction or shape of Bach’s pieces. Instead
everything just plods along.
the performance nor the transcriptions display any of the fantasy
required to bring the works to life in such a different medium.
The transcriptions are generally rather too literal and they
rarely take risks.
does not help that the performances themselves have technical
limitations. There are moments of instability in the ensemble
and more worrying, the tuning of the upper instruments sometimes
leaves something to be desired.
I can understand that Lawrence Gwozdz and
his group wanted to disseminate their unique sound to a wider
audience. But I am afraid that this CD hardly does them justice.
Whilst much of the disc is adequate, the performances are not
stimulating enough to make you want to listen. But there are
also moments which reminded me more of the amateur clarinet
choir which was the bane of our night school, many years ago,
than a professionally produced piece of work.