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Christian LAUBA (b.1952)
Salsa (2012)* [4:29]
George APERGHIS (b.1945)
Rasch (2001) [7:29]
Christian LAUBA
Balafon (1992) [6:31]
François ROSSÉ (b.1945)
XIMIX (1997) [2:21]
Etienne ROLIN (b.1952)
Vous, Blue Look! (1993) [5:07]
Christian LAUBA
Tãdj (1994) [9:42]
Hiroyuki ITOH (b.1963)
The Angel of Despair II (1999) [11:16]
Christian LAUBA
Ars (1994) [4:36]
Hayden CHISHOLM (b.1975)
Wind Over the Plains (2014)
Koryun Asatryan (saxophone, duduk)
Karola Pavone (soprano), Eva Barthas (saxophone), Gareth Lubbe (viola/voice)
*world première recordings
rec. Sendesaal Deutschlandfunk Kammermusiksaal, Cologne, Germany, 2014
GENUIN GEN14301 [59:45]

This fascinating disc is as much a showcase for the composers and the saxophone as it is for the indisputable talents of Koryun Asatryan.

This thirty year old Armenian was an award-winner at the 2012 German Music Competition which arranges recordings on ‘Primavera Edition’ debut CDs. The aim of the competition throughout its existence (since 1975) has been to provide a launch-pad for up-and-coming musicians in a wide variety of instrumental categories. Indeed they vary from year to year, presumably to ensure that a surfeit of violinists or pianists do not preclude the emergence of talented players of less popular instruments.

Despite being invented by Adolphe Sax whose birth bi-centenary fell on 6 November 2014, the saxophone has never truly found its place in classical music repertory. It really was ‘made’ for jazz. It’s not that there haven’t been classical works written for the instrument but clearly most composers don’t feel it has the classical voice for them. This disc certainly demonstrates that there is a lot that can be said by the saxophone which composers here have made shout, sing, serenade, moan and cry. These contemporary composers have also shown how well they know the saxophone. They have set it some highly complex musical tasks which Asatryan shows he is well able to meet and solve.

The first two works are really challenging with the soloist being required to use a whole array of techniques from growling into the mouthpiece to using the tongue as a valve producing short staccato sounds. Christian Lauba’s Salsa is a riotous celebration of that Latin-American dance form. The second piece has a viola as accompanist which serves to emphasise the above-mentioned techniques. The third is more rhapsodic with some lovely flowing lines until the closing couple of minutes. The fourth work XIMIX by François Rossé has a second saxophone played by Eva Barthas joining in. They sound like two characters circling each other. Etienne Rolin’s Vous, Blue Look! features soprano Karola Pavone as another instrument providing a soft contrast to the often more abrasive sax. Christian Lauba, whose works appear four times here, was born in Tunisia. His piece Tãdj recalls this Arab background and calls for some amazingly virtuosic playing.

Japanese composer Hiroyuki Itoh’s piece, The Angel of Despair was a commission and at over eleven minutes is the longest piece on the disc. Harsh and abrasive sounds coexist alongside moments of almost transcendental lyricism. Christian Lauba’s Ars sees the return of fellow saxophonist Eva Barthas and has an almost medieval sound at its start before rejoining the contemporary world. The disc closes with a piece by New Zealand composer and saxophonist Hayden Chisholm. This has Gareth Lubbe’s viola return as accompanist for Wind Over the Plains. This most ethereal work, to me, evokes a barren Mongolian desert. Just as that thought came to me it was corroborated by Gareth Lubbe’s ‘throat singing’ alongside Asatryan playing the Armenian duduk. This closes the work sounding like the very breath of the wind that figures in its title.

We hear contemporary works much less often than we should considering the sheer amount of music that is being written on a daily basis. It is refreshing that a musician like Koryun Asatryan chose to feature all contemporary works on this disc. He could easily gone for a mix of late nineteenth and early twentieth century works alongside newer ones. It was also a brave move to concentrate on works by little known composers. In doing so Asatryan has shown his independence of thought and has done great service to these composers who, on the strength of the music here, deserve to be better known.

Since starting this review I have discovered that Asatryan also released a disc on Hänssler in 2005 entitled Saxophone Caprices.

This player's artistry is left in no doubt. He is a formidable force on the saxophone, an instrument he has made his own but which he claims is not even his favourite. He is more than ably accompanied by the three other musicians here. This disc is a truly ear-catching debut for an exciting young player of exceptional talent.

Steve Arloff