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.
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