This disc from the Northern Sinfonia incorporates live recordings of works which celebrate Bach’s legacy and continuing influence. Proceedings open with an arrangement of Bach’s D minor oboe concerto, with a solo soprano saxophone taking the oboe part. It is not altogether unusual for this concerto to be played on different instruments; I know of versions for flute and harpsichord. Saxophonists often play Bach in various guises - such as in arrangements of the flute sonatas - so it is a logical step for the instrument to take the solo role here. Although the instrument’s sound gives a more modern feel to the music, perhaps thereby making it feel more relevant to the twenty-first century, the sound of the soprano sax is in many ways quite similar to the oboe, and the effect is convincing. I had more reservations about some of the ornamentations, which by the nature of the instrument had a more jazz-style feel than we are used to hearing in Bach’s music, but it was nevertheless enjoyable.
No disc paying tribute to Bach’s influence would be complete without a work of Stravinsky’s and the Dumbarton Oaks
concerto is his homage to the Brandenburg Concertos. Composed in 1937 and using fifteen players, the work is full of references to Bach’s music, within Stravinsky’s inimitable style. The shift in sound to The Sage’s acoustic is a little unsettling at the beginning, but the ear soon settles. This is an enjoyable recording which has excellent intonation throughout and a spirited character.
Tim Garland is a composer and performer with strong links to both the classical and jazz traditions. His Fantasia in Two Movements – The Stream
continues Stravinsky’s rhythmic energy and takes its melodic material from Bach, both in terms of his music and his name. Garland’s writing allows the music to develop through different textures and episodes, each of which maintains its link with the original melodic material. The second movement is calmer with more lush harmonies, and a greater sense of the influence of Jazz. The material here builds in the initials of the commissioners of the work Margaret and John Sparke, as well as quotes from Bach’s Wedding Cantata, in respect of the fact that the work was commissioned to celebrate the couple’s golden wedding anniversary. The music builds from its luxurious opening into a frenzied climax, which allows Garland to demonstrate the potential within this ensemble.
Garland’s second work on this disc is the concerto for Soprano Saxophone, written in homage to Bach. Bach’s influence is clear, with flowing semiquaver lines forming an important feature of the opening movement. The incorporation of a harpsichord into the ensemble also links the music with Baroque era, and the style of composition pays tribute to the tradition of extemporisation of a solo line, with harmonic sequences moving gradually in new directions. There’s also an improvised section in the rich and expressive slow movement. The final movement is more angular, with biting harmonies and strong rhythms. This is a highly enjoyable work which provides further evidence that Garland is both an exciting composer and an excellent saxophonist.
The disc ends with more Bach, this time the double concerto, heard here on violin and saxophone. The arrangement is once again convincing, and within the context of this disc it works very well. The playing is sensitive and stylish, and the slow movement is particularly enjoyable. The concerto as a whole has a joyful feel, with energy in the playing which keeps the mood light and bright, especially in the final movement.
This is an enjoyable disc which works surprisingly well. Bach purists might not approve of the use of a soprano saxophone in place of an oboe, but I feel that the overall effect of the recording is to capture the essence of Bach’s music, and to allow it to be heard within the context of more recent works based on his writing. The new works are enjoyable and well constructed, and Bach’s music seems fresher than ever alongside them.