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.