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Catch Me If You Can John WILLIAMS (b.1932) Escapades for alto saxophone and orchestra [14:18] Michael KAMEN (1948-2003)
Concerto for Saxophone [29:06] Mark KNOPFLER (b. 1949) Local Hero Saxophone Concerto (arr. Jessica Wells) [27:17]
Amy Dickson (alto saxophone), Rex Goh (guitar), Daryl Pratt (vibraphone), Leon Gaer (bass), Gordon Rytmeister (drums), Tony Azzopardi (shaker)
Melbourne Symphony Orchestra/Benjamin Northey
rec. 14-15 October 2012, Studio 227, Australian Broadcasting Corporation's Ultimo Centre, Sydney, Australia; 24-27 October 2012, Iwaki Hall of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's Southbank Centre, Melbourne, Australia. SONY CLASSICAL/ABC CLASSICS 88843 027202 [65:06]
Antoine-Joseph "Adolphe" Sax, the Belgian instrument-maker and inventor amongst whose creations was the saxophone and whose 200th anniversary it is this year (6 November 2014) could never have guessed that his instrument would become the pre-eminent voice of jazz. He invented it for the classical orchestra yet there are all too few works for saxophone in the classical repertoire just as there are few for other instruments such as guitar and the xylophone/marimba family. It is interesting to speculate as to why it never attracted more composers to write for it. Fortunately several have and these three works show just how brilliantly it can shine in the right setting.
John Williams is the same John Williams who has written or served as music director on nearly eighty 80 films garnering as many as five Academy Awards, 17 Grammys, three Golden Globes, two Emmys and five BAFTA Awards from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts. Film-lovers will know him especially for scores for films such as Jaws, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, Schindler's List, as well as the Indiana Jones and Harry Potter series and for four Olympic Games.
He has an uncanny facility for coming up with the most memorable tunes which make his music immediately identifiable. His Escapades for alto saxophone and orchestra is a delicious work full of the most gorgeous melodies. It gives the saxophone some wonderfully rich music in an upbeat, sunny and altogether delightful piece that delivers in every respect. It was composed for the 2002 film Catch Me If You Can which gives this disc it title. The three movements are interestingly titled:
1. Closing In (Stealthily)
2. Reflections (Reflectively and freely — Moderato [Nostalgically]
3. Joy Ride (Joyfully, with quiet expectation)
The first movement is a perfect musical evocation of stealth, bringing images to mind of people carefully moving around in the dark and stopping every now and then to hide behind a corner before moving on again. The second again perfectly describes reflection tinged with nostalgia. The final movement has all the thrill of a joy ride embodied in its fabric with the vibraphone a playful presence alongside the saxophone with its singing line. Some people would, I'm sure class this music as `crossover' as they would the Knopfler piece but that’s not a very helpful description; it is an attitude however, that has often resulted in music for films being regarded as somehow less worthy than that written specifically for the concert hall. The music is upbeat and light rather than 'heavy' but is firmly rooted in the 'classical' tradition. It simply goes to prove that music doesn't have to take itself too seriously all the time.
Michael Kamen was a celebrated composer of music for films such as all four Lethal Weapon and three Die Hard movies, as well as Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves – which won him two 1991 Grammys – and such other movies as Brazil, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen and the James Bond film Licence to Kill. His movie songs were equally popular, including the number-one hit "(Everything I Do) I Do It for You" from Robin Hood and "Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman" from Don Juan DeMarco – which were Best Song Oscar nominees in 1991 and 1995, respectively – and "It's Probably Me" from Lethal Weapon 3, a 1992 Grammy nominee. He wrote "Light the Fire Within" for the opening ceremonies of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City; served as one of the musical directors for the Golden Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace; and composed and produced When Love Speaks, an album of Shakespeare sonnets read by leading actors, as a fundraiser for the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (source: The Film Music Society News Archive). He also composed music for The Three Musketeers as well as eleven ballets. A committed humanitarian, following the composition of music for the film Mr Holland’s Opus, he helped found the Mr Holland’s Opus Foundation which provides musical instruments for school children in underprivileged areas of the country and worked tirelessly raising money for the Foundation. He contracted multiple sclerosis in 1996 and, though he continued to work, died of a heart attack in 2003, aged 55.
Michael Kamen’s saxophone concerto is a true concerto, that is: rich, full blooded and lush in every respect. Opening with the lower strings in their deepest register the concerto emerges from darkness into light with the saxophone leading the orchestra into a wonderfully expansive and tuneful main theme with the brass section playing a significant role. The saxophone’s contribution is extremely lyrical in the same way a flute would be with a comparably playful aspect about it as it soars above the rest. This first movement is full of drama with some moments that would easily accompany a film. The second is much more reflective tinged with regret with a generally sad feeling to it and with passages of an ethereal beauty. The final movement recalls themes from the other two and merges the two moods. It ends in an uplifting mood.
Mark Knopfler will be known by millions as the lead guitarist and vocalist of Dire Straits, a band that spent a total of 1100 weeks in the UK Albums Chart making them the fifth most successful ever and selling 120 million records. He penned the music for the 1983 film Local Hero on which this arrangement by Jessica Wells is based. The music has a distinctly Scottish sound to it since the action in the film took place in a fictional Scottish village. The titles given to the movements are a clue to the atmosphere created (Mist Covered Mountains, Smooching, Boomtown, Going Home). The opening is quite magical, creating a feeling of wide open spaces and majestic peaks while second is more laid back. The third is distinctly jazzy with the vibraphone adding to that feeling and the saxophone playing in a way that will be familiar to all jazz fans, soaring and diving deliciously. The final movement recalls themes from the first with the guitar taking an important place in the proceedings by heralding the main theme. The saxophone then joins in and this time the mood is akin to a rock anthem with the plaintive theme taken on a rock journey finally ‘going home’ as the title suggests. As I indicated above many will perhaps write this off as being too far removed from ‘classical’ in style but it has plenty to recommend it if given the chance and will reward those to do so. I found the entire disc very enjoyable with some superbly lyrical moments of great beauty. Amy Dickson is a London-based Australian classical saxophonist who has recently been nominated for a Grammy award for her 2013 disc Dusk and Dawn. She has a wonderfully rich silky tone and is at home when the music calls for a jazz sound as she is when playing in ‘classical’ mode. The other musicians are on top form and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra under Benjamin Northey shows why it’s so highly thought of at home and abroad.