New Irish Music
Saxophone Quartet No.1 (2013) [9:21]
Ian WILSON (b. 1964)
heaven lay close II (2009) [18:26]
Brian IRVINE (b. 1965)
“Just a little lighter cut of the same girls” [3:09]
Jonathan NANGLE (b. 1981)
iridescent cobalt glow (2014) [6:39]
Kenneth EDGE (b. 1965)
3 Études for Saxophone Quartet (2014) [9:18]
Chatham Saxophone Quartet
Aimée Farrell Courtney (bodhrán: Wilson)
rec. Marguerite Studios, Dublin, 2014
RTÉ LYRIC FM CD149 [46:51]
The Chatham Saxophone Quartet is a fairly new group founded in 2008 and this is, if I am not mistaken, their first record. The group won the Young Musicwide Award in 2012 which triggered the idea of this album. Music Network provided the quartet with the funding to make an album with no constraints regarding content or design. Emphasis, however, was put on music by Irish composers who responded wholeheartedly to the project. These words are drawn from the quartet's notes accompanying this disc.

As can be seen from the above, the range of music is fairly broad and each composer approached the medium in his own way. Most pieces however are fairly short with the notable exception of the Ian Wilson score which is quite substantial. The stylistic range, too, is wide though none of the works recorded here sounds extravagantly modern or radical. Byrne's Saxophone Quartet No.1 often brings some French composers to mind such as Milhaud, Damase and Françaix and none the worse for that. It's laid out in a single movement encompassing several contrasted sections in turn lyrical, dancing and humorous - a colourful kaleidoscope. I enjoyed it enormously and I wonder whether the Saxophone Quartet No.2 by now exists. If so, I would certainly like to hear it.

As already hinted at, Ian Wilson's heaven lay close II is by far the longest and the most substantial work in this recital. It was originally written for string quartet and percussion (tabla actually) but it is heard here in a version for saxophone quartet and bodhrán - which may be regarded as the Irish equivalent of the Indian tabla. In his notes concerning this piece, the composer writes that each of the four sections is based on a traditional tabla rhythmic cycle. “Each section also has a melodic content which, although original, seeks to evoke the spirit of the kind of music one normally associates with the tabla but now in a more Western, classical context due to the presence of the quartet.” True, the music does not attempt to imitate oriental clichés but rather goes its own way although it is somewhat easier on the ear than what one has sometimes come to expect from Ian Wilson whose music, for all its unquestionable expressive strength, may sometimes be a bit complex and gritty.

Brian Irvine's piece with its quite improbable long title is a quite short Scherzo in which an auctioneer's chatter (on tape) is mirrored in the quartet's frantic, chugging patter. A funny little piece indeed.

Jonathan Nangle's iridescent cobalt glow is a short three-movement suite whose title obliquely refers to Miles Davis' album Kind of Blue. The composer explains that while composing the piece he read an article concerning video games in the 1980s and in which the phrase “iridescent cobalt blue” appeared which brought to mind Miles Davis' album. One need not look any further into the music which is again quite colourful and very attractive and never tries to imitate Miles Davis' style.

Finally, Kenneth Edge's Three Etudes for Saxophone Quartet were conceived as “explorations of various technical and acoustic possibilities of the saxophone quartet” but, again, the music is quite attractive and very accessible. It has a slightly humorous touch in the very short second movement in that the music just reflects the movement's title “Too loud? Not loud enough”; the movement begins almost innocently and ends with a slightly dissonant crescendo. The first étude “Chatterbox” is exactly that whereas the third is a beautiful miniature.

Everything here is played with technical assurance and with obvious enjoyment. The repertoire is a bit unusual but often quite beautiful and worth hearing. The recording is again very fine. So there is very little to complain about when it comes to this most commendable release. I should however point out its awfully short playing time which would have allowed for the inclusion of some other Irish works for saxophone quartet such as that by John Buckley. Anyway I am looking forward to any forthcoming release by this ensemble.

Hubert Culot

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