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French Saxophones – 25 Years Jubilee Album
CD 1 [70:16]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Quartet in G Minor Op.10 (1894) [24:29]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Quartet in F Major (1903) [26:46]
Albert ROUSSEL (1869-1937)
Quartet in D Major Op. 45 (1932) [18:12]
CD 2 [59:09]
Eugène BOZZA (1905-1991)
Andante et scherzo [6:53]
Alfred DESENCLOS (1912-1971)
Quatuor pour saxophones [14:57] 
Jean FRANCAIX (1912-1997)
Petit quatuor pour saxophones [7:03] 
Jean RIVIER (1896-1987)
Grave et presto [7:49] 
Florent SCHMITT (1870-1958)
Quatuor pour saxophones op. 102  [13:53]
Gabriel PIERNÉ (1863-1937)
Introduction et variations sur une ronde populaire [7:34]
Aurelia Saxophone Quartet (Johan van der Linden (soprano saxophone); André Arends (alto saxophone); Arno Bornkamp (tenor saxophone); Willem van Merwijk (baritone saxophone))
rec. Haarlem, May-October 1990. DDD
CHALLENGE CLASSICS CC72331 [70:16 + 59:09]


Experience Classicsonline

Early on I was conquered by the sound of the classical saxophone. It was the Glazunov concerto that did it and the victory was hammered home by the grating lilt of the instrument in the Rachmaninov Symphonic Dances. It was enough. I have chased after sax concertos ever since including John Harle in the magnificent Where The Bee Dances by Michael Nyman (Decca) but memorably first encountered on one of Evelyn Glennie’s BBCTV concert programmes in the 1990s. Again the player was John Harle.

This set is heretical stuff and not for the high priests of composer-fidelity. At least that's true of the first disc which features transcriptions of three ‘Majuscule’ string quartets by French composers. The ‘change’ works very well as in the first movements of the Debussy where the singing soprano instrument wings lyrically free and also during the more rhythmically pointed second movement. The start of the third movement of the Debussy singingly recalls the Glazunov Concerto. It perhaps  shows the source of some of Glazunov’s ideas. The music is freighted with ecstatically bubbling liberation. The four players are virtuosos in surmounting the formidable technical challenges yet lofting the emotional cargo. Nothing new is taught but you come away freshened in your delight in these works.

The Ravel, perhaps inevitably, loses some of its mystery but none of its tenderness. The dancing pointed quality of the second movement works well. Its successor seems to refer to the Pavane and the Prélude à l’Après-Midi d’un Faune. The finale is a wild and whirling dance with a jazzy fleck in the dazzle.

The Roussel, written thirty years later, is not as well known as the other two quartets and is more objective in style. The second movement suggests a sombre cave of the emotions while the third is a flittering midsummer night’s dream. The finale has a lovely singing cantabile in the canonic interweave of the four instruments.

One downside is that the instruments tend to be at the same dynamic level. At the very least the dynamic range is more constricted than in the originals. You should also be prepared for some quiet yet audible, deliberately-pulsed key action.

The quartet must have been delighted when Jean-Marie Londeix, one of Marcel Mule's leading pupils wrote to congratulate them on the results of their work on the Debussy and Ravel.

The second disc takes us in large part to works written for the  medium of saxophone quartet and each was composed at the commission or suggestion of Marcel Mule (1901-2001).

The Bozza is by turns cocooned and crooning. Its split-second virtuosity, grumble and balletic call are a pleasure. The Desenclos is more feral but no less virtuosic than the Bozza. The second movement’s sentimentality and nostalgia contrasts with its successor’s dazzle and glare.

Francaix's little three-movement quartet is clever but touching and witty without being vapid especially the finale. The middle movement is a little known pavane to consider alongside the Ravel and Fauré. Perhaps excepting the Grave the Rivier work is elegant with a jazzy South-American vitality. It’s very attractive. The Schmitt is in three very compact movements and a penultimate five minute Assez lent. The first, determinedly fugal, is followed by a tumbling and gale-driven Vif. The meditative Assez lent has noticeably deep gruff key action. The finale has a jazzy sway here given with a rip and a skirl. This is a work with real life which is mixed with a sidling mystery and contrasting tiers of sound and volume  It ends with a grand whirling hooley melting down into a subtle murmur and then curving back up into a bright sun-burst. The Pierné is a dancing set of variations on a theme not unlike Bobby Shaftoe.

I thought I recognised the name of Arno Bornkamp. He was the featured saxophone player in a Brilliant Classics collection reviewed here in 2003.

The presentation is superb: clear fonts, black-on-white text and even a witty cover. It is a delight to welcome these discs back; for some of us its the first time. I would hope that Challenge might let me loose on their Russian album CC72039 which includes the lovely Glazunov sax quartet. So far as annotation is concerned we could have done with more about each piece. We are offered very little except the Mule connection and that most of the pieces date from around the mid-twentieth century. If you are allergic to a little - only a little - mechanical action noise then beware. If you pass this set on that account you will be denying yourself a most entertaining collection.

Rob Barnett




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