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CD: Crotchet


Sigfrid KARG-ELERT (1877-1933)
Twenty-Five Caprices for saxophone solo [58:19] and Sonata (atonal) for alto saxophone solo Op.153 (1929) [15:30]
Christian Peters (saxophones)
rec. Ackerhaus der Abtei Marienmunster, November 2007 and January 2008†
Experience Classicsonline

Though it seems as if there are two works here† - and really there are Ė the Caprices and Sonata seem to have been conjoined by Karg-Elert into one vast canvas lasting seventy-three minutes. You might have expected say Marcel Mule or Sigurd Rascher to have been the recipient of a work this demanding but apparently the composer was writing in isolation of any external virtuosic presence. Which perhaps makes it all the more of an Olympus to climb.
It was written in 1929, a few years before Karg-Elertís death. He left questions of registration almost entirely up to the individual performer and the intrepid Christian Peters avails himself naturally enough of soprano, alto, tenor and baritone Ė it might have been a nice idea to have heard the C-melody given its vogue in the 1920s and early 1930s. The ones the composer specifically requested to be played in a certain key are Caprices Nos. IX and XV, which he hoped would be played on the soprano Ė and are.
The obvious initial starting points are Bach and Paganini. But the Caprices do go well beyond the question of technique to embrace some formidably difficult expressive states which call for a commanding legato and sense of characterisation. No.III for instance is to be played languide and thatís just how it sounds. Thereís a ruminative Consolation (on bass) and an airy gigue for No. V played on the tenor. The Ragtime vogue, a bit passť in 1929, was met by a rather squawky movement. Itís not really a Rag at all. Burlesque humour is not omitted Ė try the comedia dellíarte antics of No. IX played as intended on the soprano. Thereís a Chaconne of glancing depth [No. XII] which itself seems to glance at Purcellís Dido and Aeneas, though it also has a faster section of etude like velocity and virtuosity. Karg-Elertís humour runs from sarcastic to wintry to perplexing at times like this. No. XVI is tinged with elegiac motifs but XIX, Tarantelle e Sizilienne, is tuneful and avian.
The Sonata clearly offers greater room for expansion after the compression of the Caprices but it clearly inhabits the same sound world and forms a fitting conclusion to the cycle. There is fanfare confidence and a non-stop, breath-wrenching scherzo Ė yes indeed itís marked Scherzo demoniaco. The slow movement is the most compelling Ė curiously fugitive and haunted.
Itís a test of stamina and projection to take a work this long and bring it to life. Peters succeeds with real brio and panache. This is hard, though never off putting stuff. I have to say itís more for saxophone aficionados than the general run of listeners but if you were unaware of the protean Karg-Elertís interest in the saxophone here is a welcoming port of call.
Jonathan Woolf


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