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Nicolas FLAGELLO (1928-1994)
Odyssey
(1981) [9.07]
Valse Noire (transcr. Walter Simmons for saxophone quartet) (1964/1992) [5.38]
Symphony No. 2 Symphony of the Winds (1970) [16.11]
Concerto Sinfonico (transcr. Merlin Patterson for saxophone quartet and wind ensemble) (1985/2005) [21.13]
Arnold ROSNER (b. 1945)
Symphony No. 8 Trinity (1988) [22.28]
University of Houston Saxophone Quartet: Robert Eason (soprano saxophone); Lee Redfearn III (alto saxophone); Justin Neumann (tenor saxophone) and Brian Ngo (Valse Noire) and Elizabeth Ambs (Concerto Sinfonico) (baritone saxophone).
University of Houston Wind Ensemble/David Bertman
rec. Moores School of Music, University of Houston, Texas, USA, 1-4 May 2011 - all except Flagello’s Concerto Sinfonico which was recorded in the same venue 12-13 May 2011.
NAXOS 8.573060 [74.37]

I will say at once that I was so mightily impressed with Flagello’s Missa Sinfonica and Rosner’s Symphony No. 5 on Naxos 8.559347 that I included that recording in my six-best-choice for 2008. With that in the background I greeted this release with eager anticipation. I should say at once, however, that this music, by Flagello and Rosner does not make for comfortable or comforting listening.
 
Flagello’s Symphony of the Winds is another highly emotional and often disturbing work. Although bereft of the nuance and subtleties that a full symphony orchestra could bring, Flagello nevertheless imaginatively and quite daringly uses the colours of his wind band, including a percussive array, to splendid effect. He impressively evokes the sense of the three movements: 1) ‘The torrid winds of veiled portents’; 2) ‘Dark winds of lonely contemplation’ and 3) “The winds of rebirth and vitality”. The second movement marked Aria is particularly striking making inspired use of bells, clarinet and piccolo. I was reminded very much of Respighi’s Roman trilogy writing.
 
Flagello’s Odyssey again is very inventive in its harmonies and colours - this time we hear telling use of bass, snare drums and triangle. It is, one might surmise, a spiritual journey. There’s a sinister, despondent and ultimately mournful march. Even that hint of sanguine light is sadly dashed in the crushing chords at the end.
 
Valse Noire for saxophone quartet is Merlin Patterson’s witty transcription of Flagello’s Introduction and Scherzo, originally scored for accordion.
 
The most substantial Flagello piece here is his last completed work, his three-movement Concerto Sinfonico. It is consistently anguished, dark and tempestuous. One cannot help but wonder if this mood was prompted by the progress of the physical and psychological damage wrought by the degenerative disease that would eventually kill him. The Concerto was originally conceived for orchestra with Saxophone Quartet. It was this version that was introduced to the arranger Merlin Patterson. The Allegro non troppo opening movement begins in a relentlessly driven mode that almost culminates in hysteria. Devilry and chaos rage against serenity - of sorts. The writing for the saxophones in unison and against each other is forceful and imaginative. The central Lento movendo: quasi alla barcarola central brings an uneasy peace. Even that is overtaken by malevolent spirits stalking their way through a turbulent, pounding episode which culminates in a spine-chilling explosion. The grotesque third movement allows this malevolence to continue. After a brief episode of calm, chaos returns - all hope gone.
 
Rosner’s ‘Trinity’ Symphony is something of a mystical triangulation - looking at spiritual mysticism from three different and perhaps opposing viewpoints. Rosner admits, “While I believe in fairly complex structures, rich orchestration, and some intensity of drama and mood, I still believe in traditional melody, harmony and counterpoint. I suppose the ‘neo-archaic’ aspect derives from the fact that I MUCH prefer the modes and progressions of music that is 400 years old to that which is 200 years old.” All these attributes: colour, drama and strikingly complex harmonies are in evidence in Rosner’s Symphony No. 8. He claims that his first movement, ‘Ave Maria’, resembles the Renaissance style, and is devout in character whereas the second movement, ‘Le Rondeau du Monsieur le Diable’ is devilish; its impulse dating back to the 14th century or earlier. “Mysticism of numbers and ‘music of the spheres’ take over the finale, ‘Pythagorus’ where parts move in cross rhythmic patterns… with slow majestic chorales to the fore.”
 
Challenging music: Flagello - stark and uncompromising; Rosner - bold and intensely dramatic. For the adventurous.
 
Ian Lace