Giovanni Pierluigi PALESTRINA (1525-1594)
Ricercar so-mi-la-so (arr. F. Graef) [1:22]
Ricercar primo tono (arr. F. Graef) [2:55]
Heinrich ISAAK (1460-1517)
Ricercar La-mi-la-so (arr. C. Hoffmann) [2:20]
Innsbruck, ich muss dich lassen (arr. F. Graef) [3:04]
Fammi una gratia (arr. F. Graef) [1:59]
Tielman SUSATO (c.1510-c.1570)
Drei Allemanden und eine Tripla (arr. F. Graef) [3:00]
Pavan e Gailard, ‘La Donna’ (arr. F. Graef) [2:15]
Samuel SCHEIDT (1587-1654)
Canzon cornetto (arr. C. Hoffmann) [2:47]
Girolamo FRESCOBALDI (1583-1643)
Ricercar la-fa-sol-la-re (arr. F. Graef) [3:17]
Canzon terzadecima a 4 (arr. F. Graef) [2:28]
Ricercar mi-re-fa-mi (arr. F. Graef) [3:05]
Orlando di LASSO (1532-1594)
Die kalte Nacht (arr. F. Graef) [4:05]
Libro de villanelle, moresche, et altre canzoni: ‘Matona mia cara’ (arr. F. Graef) [1:58]
Giovanni GABRIELI (1557-1613)
Canzoni a 4, C.186, ‘La Spiritata’ (arr. for saxophone quartet) [2:10]
Canzoni et sonate (1615): Canzon No. 2 (arr. for saxophone quartet) [2:15]
John DOWLAND (1563-1626)
Flow, my tears, fall from your springs (arr. C. Hoffmann) [1:55]
Lachrimae Pavan, P.15 (arr. C. Hoffmann) [4:28]
Cancionero: ‘Un niño nos es nacido’ (arr. C. Hoffmann) [1:49]
Mateo FLECHA (1481-1553)
Cancionero: ‘Ríu Ríu Chíu’ (arr. C. Hoffmann) [1:55]
Francisco de la TORRE (1483-1504)
Cancionero: ‘Danza alta’ (arr. C. Hoffmanns) [3:17]
Cancionero: ‘Ojos garcos’ (arr. C. Hoffmann) [1:53]
Cancionero: ‘E la don don’ (arr. C. Hoffmann) [2:17]
Cancionero: ‘Corten espadas afiladas’ (arr. C. Hoffmann) [1:32]
Mabriano de ORTO (1460-1529)
St. Gallen: ‘Se je perdu mon amy’ (arr. F. Graef) [1:42]
Josquin DESPREZ (1440-1521)
St. Gallen: ‘Fors seulement’ (arr. F. Graef) [2:36]
St. Gallen: ‘Se je perdu mon amy’ (arr. F. Graef)
Berlin Saxophone Quartet (Clemens Hoffmann (soprano sax), Theo Nabicht (alto sax), Christof Griese (tenor sax), Friedemann Graef (baritone sax))
rec. 24-27 November 2009, Saal 3, kulturradio rbb, Berlin
CPO 777 581-2 [63:13]

Saxophone quartets have come a long way since the pioneering ensembles of Eduard Lefebre (1834-1911) and Marcel Mule (1901-2001). As there was no repertoire for the latter’s Quatuor de la Garde Républicaine, formed in 1927, the group had to rely on Mule’s own transcriptions of popular classical pieces. Even now there isn’t a vast amount of material written specifically for such bands, but those by Zdenek LukáŠ, Philip Glass and Barbara Thompson are well worth investigating; you can hear these works – and others – played by that fine foursome, the Tetraphonics (review).

The Berlin Saxophone Quartet have gone back to Mule’s time with their ‘in-house’ transcriptions of Bach’s Kunst der Fuge (CPO 999 058-2) and now with music of the 15th and 16th centuries. As band member and composer Friedemann Graef points out in his booklet essay, ‘Old Music with New Instruments’, the Renaissance period is a good place to look for suitable material, as most pieces would not have been written for specific instruments or ensembles. It’s certainly an eclectic mix, including many songs, but how does it sound?

Superb, is the short answer. >From the delicate interplay of the first Ricercar by Palestrina it’s clear these are very sophisticated musicians who sound remarkably ‘authentic’ in matters of style and instrumental blend. Isaak’s song Innsbruck, ich muss dich lassen (Innsbuck, I must leave thee) is a case in point; the distribution of voices is most sensitively done, the effect both plaintive and poignant. It’s made all the more affecting by a warm, detailed and well-balanced recording that adds a burnished glow to these instruments. What gravitas these players bring to Isaak’s Fammi una gratia, and what deftness of rhythm and articulation to Susato’s three Allemandes and stately Pavane.

Inevitably, collections such as this stand or fall by their programme; I’m pleased to say the pieces have been well chosen for their variety of mood and rhythm. Hence the light, bright cornet sound so well mimicked in Scheidt’s Canzon cornetto is a perfect foil for the Pavane just past and the plangent Ricercar la-fa-sol-la-re by Frescobaldi that follows. Even where a composer is represented by several works they are always complementary, as demonstrated by the very different character of the two Lassus items. The dark, organ-like sonorities of Die kalte Nacht – what a gorgeous piece this is – are set against the lighter, more athletic Matona mia cara.

The joyful intricacy of the two Gabrieli pieces is beautifully realised here, as is the halting loveliness of Dowland’s ayre Flow my tears. Of all the pieces here, this and the Lachrimae Pavan – the latter an instrumental work on which the ayre is based have astonishing emotional range, all of it most eloquently distilled by these fine players. But it’s not all high seriousness, as the clutch of Spanish pieces from the Cancioneros de Upsala demonstrate; indeed, the dance-like rhythms of Un niño nos es nacido are as buoyant as one could hope for, and the mischievous, jazzy inflections and showy solos of Flecha’s villancico, Ríu Ríu Chíu and the unattributed E la don don will surely raise a smile or two. The disc ends with pieces from the so-called Sankt Gallen collection, among them Josquin’s haunting chanson, Fors seulement, and a short, bouncy little version of de Orto’s Se je perdu mon amy.

Even if you prefer lutes, cornets and sackbuts in this repertoire I’m sure you’ll be captivated by the sound and spirit of this engaging collection. Both playing and sonics are first-rate, and I’d recommend this disc to anyone with a sense of adventure – and fun.

Dan Morgan

A sense of adventure and fun.