I first encountered the marvellous Raschèr
Saxophone Quartet in an Alba recording – In Memoriam Pehr
– which impressed me so much I nominated
it a Recording of the Month
They were at ease with those contemporary pieces, so it’s no surprise
that they’re just as relaxed on this new disc of equally challenging
repertoire. Kudos to BIS for getting them on board, and for tirelessly
promoting new music, which still forms a substantial part of their
release schedule. That’s brave in a tough market where many labels
are pillaging their back catalogues for the n
or simply focusing on easy-to-shift core classics.
The Beamish piece is built on the Baroque conceit of concertino
(small instrumental group) and ripieno
represented by the sax quartet and string orchestra respectively.
I daresay even the untutored ear will pick up this interplay,
but even more apparent is the sheer pace and personality of this
well-crafted music. The Allegro giusto
is fleet of foot,
the close recording favouring the Raschèrs rather than the Stuttgart
strings. The Adagio
is altogether more interior, haunting
sax lines underpinned by the gentlest pizzicati
It’s the loveliest of the three movements, highlighting the Raschèrs’
rock-solid intonation and velveteen delivery. The animated Allegro
is pin-sharp and playful, rounding off a most rewarding
and virtuosic work.
That’s a hard act to follow, but the extreme dynamics and exploration
of sonorities in Stucky’s piece does make for a pleasing contrast.
It’s a work of concentration and character, with just enough of
the latter to ensure it doesn’t outstay its welcome. Once again
this fit and feisty foursome clear technical hurdles with aplomb,
each member given a chance to shine. Not as readily approachable
as the Beamish perhaps, but well worth a listen. Robin Engelen
and his string band are models of discretion and good taste, giving
the quartet all the room they need to dazzle and delight.
Chen Yi’s Ba Yin
is based on the traditional Chinese
sound-groupings of metal, stone, silk, bamboo, gourd, clay, leather
and wood. Divided into three movements, the first – Praying
– is an intriguing blend of liquid saxes and plucked
strings. Stylistically it’s the most individual work here, and
while some listeners may find it a little opaque to start with
it does have a developing sense of direction and a harmonic ‘signature’
that’s most appealing. Song of the Chu
has a more exotic
colour palette, the sax tunes writhing above mournful and/or pizzicato
strings. After that strangeness the ebullient Shifan Gong-and-drum
has a ceremonial bounce that’s most welcome.
Another enterprising release from BIS, well planned and recorded,
and one I’m happy to add to my growing collection of music for
saxophone quartet; it’s a fascinating genre that’s well worth
exploring, especially when the standard of playing is so high
and the repertoire so varied. As always, the well-written liner-notes
complete a quality package.
A most colourful bouquet; Beamish is the pick of the bunch.