Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924) Pelléas et Mélisande Suite, Op. 80 [16:33]
Alexander GLAZUNOV (1865-1936) Saxophone Quartet, Op. 109 [24:00]
Philip GLASS (b.1937) Concerto for Saxophone Quartet [23:16]
Amstel Quartet (Remco Jak (soprano saxophone); Olivier Sliepen (alto saxophone); Bas Apswoude (tenor saxophone); Ties Mellema (baritone saxophone)); Wijnand van Klaveren (piano)
rec. 2 November 2006, 2, 23 May 2007, Studio Grasland in Haarem; Frits Philips Music Center in Eindhoven. DDD
CONCERT ARTISTS GUILD CAG 102 [66:55]
Mystified by the title of this album? It is the name of the Netherlands' benchmark for sea level - actual levels are reported by reference to the Amstel Peijl which was introduced in 1684.
This ensemble is the most successful I have encountered in defeating the clichéed warble of the saxophone. The Fauré Prelude has rarely sounded as smoothly resolved - it's almost Mozartean. The Sicilienne is miscalculated; it needs to be relished more rather than treated with such despatch. La Mort de Mélisande is sturdy - even Purcellian.
Glazunov was of a multiply tragic generation. He had seen worldwide success prior to the Great War and the 1917 Revolution but thereafter his music took a downturn as modernism, neo-classicism and a host of other ‘isms’ took hold. His Saxophone Quartet like the saxophone concerto is a late work. In it there is no evidence of any change of style. This is the Glazunov of the symphonies and tone poems but written with consummate skill for the saxophone. In the first movement one hears the influence of Russian Orthodox Chant mixed with the sort of exuberance typical of the symphonies 4-6. The second draws on the chuckling confidence of Tchaikovsky's variation style as heard in the Serenade for Strings and the Third Suite. The finale is carefree and cool with superb ensemble playing. This version is less resinous, nasal and sharkskin abrasive than the sound to be encountered (if you can find it at all) on the USSR Melodiya version recorded by Mikhailov, Oseichuk, Vorontsov and Eremin. The Glazunov Saxophone Quartet dates from 1932 and is suave and touching. It was originally written for the Quatuor de la Garde Républicaine.
Now fast forward seven decades. Philip Glass's Saxophone Quartet is in four movements. It was written in an age when the saxophone had achieved a consolidated place in the orchestra. It forms a contrasting foil to the other two pieces on this disc. Written by the high priest of minimalism initially for the Schleswig-Holstein festival. There it appeared as a concerto for four saxophones with orchestra and was recorded on Nonesuch. The Quartet format, as recorded here, has Glass's hallmarks well in evidence: a chugging insistence, a rising Apollonian triumphalism, prayerful coaxing, introspective figuration and exuberance. Dance is inbuilt - foot-lifting, darting. The finale courses with rhythmic interest. Delightful stuff.
Like this? - Then try to hear the Sony version of the Glass Violin Concerto as arranged with the composer's blessing by Amy Dickson for saxophone and orchestra (BMG Sony Classics 88697376792).
Other CDs by this saxophone quartet are to be had on Amstel Records: Straight Lines AR 007, Amstel Tracks AR 001, Baltica AR 003 and 1 Gram of Time AR 004.
The presence - though far from frequent - of key mechanism sounds may be an obstacle to appreciation by some listeners, so be warned. You can hear it at its peak as a sort of clicky cicada twitter in the Fauré La Fileuse.
I note that CAG are reticent about playing times. They don't tell you the total playing time which is in fact substantially over the hour.
The piano plays a part in only one of the three works here - the Fauré arrangement made by the pianist with whom the Amstel work regularly.