Although the saxophone is formally an orchestral instrument,
I daresay nobody considers it as such. Like piano or organ, it
can spice up a passage here and
can even have a rhapsody or concerto to itself. But overall its appearances in
classical music are very occasional. The Ephyra Trio is a stable (since 2001)
chamber ensemble of a soprano saxophone, a cello and a piano. I admire their
decision to walk a non-trodden path and their perseverance on this way. And boy,
how this decision was right: what a great new sound-world we have here. Composers,
please, write for them!
We live in the times of a Piazzolla Renaissance, when everybody records his music.
Soon it will be difficult to choose among piles of, honestly, not radically different
albums. With half of the pieces repeating themselves over and over. That is not
the case here: first, the album has interesting arrangements for a novel combination
of instruments. Second, besides the ubiquitous Libertango
, the pieces in the program are not too familiar. For example,
we get the entire Todo Buenos Aires
cycle, which, as I know, is not on
everyone's plate - except the occasional Romance Del Diablo
, but it looks
even better inside the cycle.
I always cautiously approach any new rendering of Libertango
. It seems
that interpreters already exhausted themselves in finding new ways to twist this
music. Ephyra's recording is no exception - and I love their take! The nervous
pulsing of the piano is entrancing. I must note that the piano mostly assumes
the supporting role throughout the album, leaving soloing to the two legato instruments.
And when the piano does have its solo (as in Libertango
or Street Tango
its long runs of quick notes are uneven. So, something to improve here. This Libertango
very fast, masculine, smoky, dark. About half-way we enter a frenzied passacaglia
- very impressive.
with its circus-march bravado was actually written for a production
of "A Midsummer Night Dream". I find it hard to believe it was not
some Brecht. Saxophone and cello sing in turns and together in the beautiful Ausencias
Cello's solos reflect disquiet, nervous under the surface, while the sax is calming;
even its sadness is somehow optimistic.
seems to be born for these instruments: at least, it
sounds absolutely perfect. The sax is drillingly shrill, the cello tears itself
frantically, and it's all so alive. I am sure Piazzolla would approve it. By
the way, one of the bonuses of the trio's cast is that we practically have five
instruments, not three. This is because the upper and lower registers of both
soprano saxophone and cello sound so differently. So, after impersonating a piccolo
in Milonga Picaresque
, the saxophone goes down in Milonga For Three
almost to the English horn register. But now the cello rises all the way up and
turns into a soaring violin. This richness of combinations for just three instruments
is amazing. In general, this interpretation of Milonga For Three
than I was used to, but the intensity is irresistible, and the intonations are
just right. The cello's wild neighing surely tears the soul apart.
starts as a cheerful "official" tango, and
then transforms into typical Piazzolla's "cat music". On the way, some
very beautiful sonorities are explored. Sin Rumbo
is the first place where
I do not completely agree with the arranger's decision. The other moment will
be in Street Tango
, and for the same reason. Using the soprano sax in
its highest register for runs of short notes, as in Milonga Picaresque
is one thing; using it for high, long
, hard-pressed notes is a different
thing. The strain is too strong, and in this sparse texture it is plain pain
for the ear. Great mastery of tempo, though.
My favorite track is Street Tango
. This is one of those Piazzolla tales
- the musical equivalent of a short story by Hemingway. The music depicts strong
passions, and all three players give their soul to it.
Todo Buenos Aires
is a longer narrative, in several parts. The closest
literature parallel could be the stories of Julio Cortázar. It starts
with La Mufa
- a cold, rainy introduction. The last minute reveals yet
more new sonic discoveries. The title track lives on the tango heartbeat of the
piano ostinato. Tango Del Diablo
is appropriately devilish, full of virile,
dangerous attractiveness. A hushed, mysterious transition leads into Romance
. And I don't hear the Devil here. I don't believe there can be
the Devil behind the music of such exquisite beauty. So intimate and tender,
full of sadness and sunshine - Romeo and Juliet, maybe - please let it be real
love, not some Devil's mask! Lunfardo
plunges back into busy streets and
life's obstacle course. As usual, the solution is to move on, keep living. The
picture fades away. Oblivion
, with its nostalgic melancholy, is a perfect
conclusion for this very rewarding program.
The recording quality, and especially the balance of the three instruments, is
beyond praise. Great engineering from Adam Caird, the trio's pianist and
technical manager of the Forge recording label. The design of the disc case regrettably
does not allow much place for the liner-notes. Still we get a couple of interesting
insights into some titles.
I loved this disc very much. It is listenable in one gulp: a true album, not
just a collection. I liked the music I did not know. I liked the new presentation
of old favorites. I admired the virtuosity of Charlotte Bradburn, the versatility
of Vanessa Lucas-Smith and the selfless support of Adam Caird. Most of all, I
enjoyed this new feeling of hearing a trio of saxophone, cello and piano. It
is like ... well, pardon my comparison, like discovering the world of sushi if
you never tried it before. You won't regret trying.