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Parabolically Bach
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685–1750)
arr. Worley Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, BWV 565 [8.42]
arr. Loboda Toccata and Fugue in G Minor, BWV 558 [4.12]
arr. Norris Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, BWV 554 [4.12]
arr. Patrick Chorale: Wie schoen leuchtet der Morgenstern, BWV 739 [1.45]
arr. Hartley Chorale from Cantata: Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, BWV 140 [2.02]
arr. Caravan Jesu bleibet meine Freude from Cantata BWV 147 [8.42]
arr. Rascher O Haput voll Blut un Wurden from St. Matthew Passion, BWV 244 [1.21]
arr. Heyburn Chorale and Opening Chorus from Cantata BWV 99 [5.41]
arr. Patrick Ricercare a 6 (Musical Offering), BWV 1079 [6.57]
arr. Caravan, Koulman Prelude and Fugue XXII (The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 1), BWV 867 [5.34]
arr. Hunt Contrapunctus I  (The Art of Fugue), BWV 1080 [2.57]
arr. Western Brandenburg Concerto No. 6, BWV 1951 [16.60]
The Sax-Chamber Orchestra/Lawrence Gwozdz
rec. 9-12 January 2006, Carterville Baptist Church, Petal, Missouri, USA
ROMÉO RECORDS 7251 [63.03]

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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.

I 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 really appeal. 

Speeds 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.

The 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.

Neither 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. 

It 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. 

Robert Hugill



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