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From Répertoire Moderne de Vocalises-Études publiées sous la Direction
de A. L. Hettich, Professeur au Conservatoire de Paris
Harry White (alto saxophone)
Edward Rushton (piano)
rec. July 2014, SRF Radio Studio 1, Zurich, Switzerland
A co-production with Radio SRF 2 Kultur
Reviewed as a 24/96 download from eClassical
Pdf booklet included BIS BIS-9056 [67:40]
I admit it, I’m a sax fiend. Over the years it’s been my pleasure to review a number of discs that feature this most distinctive instrument. Among them was The Invitation, a collection of 20th-century saxophone quartets played by the Tetraphonics (review). Then there was Between two worlds, a programme of music for sax and organ (review). I must also direct fellow fiends to American Spectrum, with Branford Marsalis playing works by Daugherty, Rorem, Rouse and Williams (review). As for the Raschèr Saxophone Quartet – of which the present soloist Harry White was once a member – their contemporary album TheEight Sounds is well worth a listen (review).
I must confess this repertoire and its origins were unknown to me until
now. In his relaxed yet informative liner-notes White, who hails from
the USA, explains that these vocalises were study pieces, commissioned
by Amédée-Landély Hettich, a voice professor at the Paris Conservatoire.
Anyone familiar with, say, Rachmaninov’s Vocalise will
be familiar with the concept of singing sans consonants. As
White points out the ’flexible, voice-like timbre’ of the
saxophone makes it an ideal choice for these pieces, many of which are
available in versions for other instruments or combinations thereof.
Here White and his British-born accompanist Edward Rushton play arrangements
of just 23 of the more than 150 vocalises from the Hettich collection.
The roster of composers reads like a Who’s Who of 20th-century
greats, although some – Jean Huré and Alexander Labinsky, for
instance – are pretty obscure. That said, every one of these melting
miniatures is a minor miracle. Even more wondrous is White’s rich,
full-cream sound. Staying true to the form he maintains a firm legato
line throughout; there's remarkable subtlety and nuance too, and he's
quick to divine the mood and manner of each and every piece. As for
Rushton he offers discreet, characterful support throughout. The recording,
engineered by Michaela Wiesbeck, is full, warm and beautifully balanced.
There’s always a danger in collections of this ilk is that the listener’s interest tends to fade long before the last note. That it doesn’t in this case is a tribute to judicious programming and the sheer loveliness of this music, not to mention the soul and sensitivity with which it’s presented. It’s not often that I’d listen to this kind of album in one sitting, but I’m happy to make an exception here. Indeed, no sooner had I finished my first audition than I went back for more.
A delectable programme, played and recorded with great affection and artistry; a must for sax aficionados.