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Jonathan Woolf
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Stellar Saxes
Jun NAGAO (b.1964)
Paganini Lost, for two alto saxophones and piano (2008) [9:06]
Lovers on the Celestial Sphere, for soprano and tenor saxophones and piano (2006) [12:10]
Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1963)
Konzertstuck (Concert Piece), for soprano and alto saxophones (1933) [8:52]
Masanori KATOH (b.1972)
Oriental, for soprano and alto saxophones and piano (2008) [8:12]
Guy LACOUR (b.1932)
Suite en Duo, for two alto saxophones (1971) [11:14]
Victor MOROSCO (b.1936)
Contemporary Etudes in Duet Form, for two alto saxophones; Nos 1, 2 and 4 (1997) [9:33]
Kenneth Tse and Nobuya Sugawa (saxophones)
Kazuo Murakami (piano)
rec. University of Iowa, Davis Hall, Cedar Falls, Indiana, August 2008
Experience Classicsonline

We’ll forgive the slightly grandstanding title when the music is so captivating. It’s another in Crystal Records’ long line of repertoire expanding, sonority enriching releases devoted to things that would doubtless otherwise lie unrecorded. So hats off to a label that chases the new, the exciting, the overlooked and the orphaned.

The line-up here is self-explanatory - a two saxophone line up sometimes with piano accompaniment. Jun Nagao offers two pieces. The first is Paganini Lost, hot off the press or printer in 2008. It takes that theme from the Caprices. The exchanges between the two altos are sinuous and contrasts with the fluid unison work. At around the four minute mark things begin to generate greater momentum and over a rolling piano platform there’s real excitement. But there’s also lyricism as well, to which the alto is tonally attuned - I needn’t cite Johnny Hodges or Benny Carter in a jazz context - and things come together nicely toward the end where the theme is playfully toyed with. Lovers on the Celestial Sphere is by complete contrast a restful romantic discourse over a pliant piano bed - mellifluous and verdant romanticism is the order of the day.

Masanori Kato was born in 1972 and his Oriental is another new work, written in 2008. Rolling vivacity informs this. It’s nicely textured for soprano and alto saxophones and piano, very tonal, lightly jazzy I suppose, with a vein of filmic drama as well. It’s a very easy eight minute listen. By contrast Guy Lacour’s Suite en Duo was written the year before Katoh was even born. The two altos sans piano manage to evoke both Bach and Messiaen in this baroquely inspired work, which takes the Bachian Invention as its starting point. There’s a rather beautiful but not at all oleaginous Aria - winding, vaguely aloof - and a taut Fugue and well as a brilliantly fast and ensnaring Scherzetto to end things.

It is probably appropriate to note here that the elder statesman is Hindemith whose Concert Piece for two altos shares Lacour’s line-up. But this example of Hindemith’s Gebrauchsmusik marries invention with utility is a typically bracing and harmonically fetching way - clever, practical, and emotively never straightforward. Which brings us neatly to Victor Morosco’s Contemporary Etudes in Duet Form, for two alto saxophones written in 1997, of which we have Nos. 1, 2 and 4. It’s a broad ranging opus, this one, proposing thrusting arrhythmic figures in the central etude here (No.2) so zestful that you can hear the sax keys rattle and roll, if not necessarily shake. No.4 is a delightful swing workout. It ends the disc in warm and avuncular optimism.

All but the Hindemith are premiere recordings. The heroes of the disc, Tse and Sugawa, have inspired a deal of repertory over the years and are to be warmly commended for this and for their outstanding contributions on what turns out, on closer inspection, not to be a grandstanding disc title after all. Excellent recorded sound and full booklet notes round off a saxophonic feast.

Jonathan Woolf 


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