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Gary Louie: Classic Saxophone Concertos
Alexander GLAZUNOV (1865-1936)
Concerto in E-flat major for alto saxophone and orchestra, Op. 109 (1934) [14:11]
George BIZET (1838-1875)
Carmen Fantasy
(arr. Louie, orch. Baylock) [14:57]
Serge RACHMANINOFF (1873-1943)
Vocalise, Op. 34 No. 14 (1912) [7:30]
Frank MARTIN (1890-1974)
Ballade for alto saxophone and orchestra (1938) [15:51]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Traumerei (1838) (arr. Frank Hudson) [3:25]
Gary Louie (alto saxophone)
St. Petersburg State Academic Orchestra/Vladimir Lande
rec. 28-30 May 2007, Lutheran Church of St Ekaterina, Vassilievsky Island, St Petersburg, Russia
KLEOS CLASSICS KL5150 [55:36] 
Experience Classicsonline

The title of this disc is perhaps a little misleading but the contents are very enjoyable. 

Only one of the five works is in fact a ‘Concerto’ by name, and only two were written originally for the saxophone. All except one are however well-known at least in their original incarnations. The well known Glazunov - which is both of these - is given a brisk and lively account to open the disc. 

This is followed by Louie's own arrangement for his instrument of extracts from Bizet's Carmen. It is based on an arrangement for violin published in Paris in 1883 by the Spanish violinist Pablo Sarasate, from which the first, fourth and fifth movements here are taken. The second movement is the Trio where Carmen's fate is revealed and the third is the Flower Song. Whilst arranged to suit the saxophone's capabilities, this is very recognisably the Carmen of Bizet with a Fantasy element bursting with theatricality. The St Petersburg orchestra accompany with verve and gusto. The next work, Rachmaninov's Vocalise has also been transcribed for many instruments. Its dark elegiac tone contrasts with the passionate gypsy strains of Carmen. The saxophone is very lyrical and expressive in this performance. You can almost hear it singing in this plaintive chant - originally written for wordless voice and performed at Rachmaninov's memorial service. The Swiss composer Frank Martin's Ballade which follows, was written in the 1930s. It is a compact concerto in nature if not in name. Louie has this to say about it: "It is a serious piece, with atonal aspects, that point the way to Berio and other contemporary saxophone pieces." Although perhaps the least-known work here for the general listener, Louie sees it as a significant part of the saxophone's modest classical repertoire. It is solemn and austere, but repays listening to three or four times to get its full impact. The final work is a very well-known piece by Schumann. It was originally for the piano and is here arranged for alto saxophone and string orchestra. Louie - who has separately recorded a disc of romantic repertoire - makes it romantic but not lush. There is always precision and control giving the piece a crisp freshness although the 'Reverie' of the title is easy to perceive. 

Gary Louie's playing is characterised by a combination of warm, mellow and lyrical tone with a certain precision, which is ideal in this repertoire. This disc is a good counterpart to some of the other modern saxophone recordings, and I find Louie a very enjoyable soloist to listen to. He is an acclaimed performer, much in demand and receiving very positive reviews in his native America, where he is Professor of Saxophone at Johns Hopkins University at Baltimore. Although he has recorded a previous CD of romantic music for saxophone and piano, this is his first recording as a soloist accompanied by full orchestra. I hope there will be several more. 

The disc provides a useful survey of music of the relevant period for or on the saxophone. The works are presented so that they contrast with each other in a way which is refreshing. Other than the small quibble that at 55 minutes it is a little short, it gets my vote … and very warmly. 

Julie Williams


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