Henry COWELL (1897-1965)
Percy Aldridge GRAINGER (1882-1961)
Works for Saxophones
Ulrich Krieger, Frank Ziegert, Ruth Velten, Christoph Enzel, Fabian Muller
New Hudson Saxophone Ensemble, Percy Saxophone Ensemble, Intersax, New England Conservatory Wind Ensemble
Glen Falls Symphony Orchestra/Charles Peltz
rec. 2003-2015; RBB, Berlin, Germany; Oktaven Audio Hall, Yonkers, New York; Wild Beast, CalArts, Valencia, California; Trombley Auditorium, Saratoga Springs; Jordan Hall, New England Conservatory.
MODE 293 [77:00]
Credit indeed to Mode and Ulrich Krieger for this Cowell and Grainger saxophone extravaganza. It largely alternates pieces by the two composers. Krieger's essay, in English only, is something of substance with a nicely maintained tight focus on his specialist double subject. His research must have cost him much time and effort. He has a sharp eye for detail and shares the fruits with us.
In Cowell's bipartite Air and Scherzo for alto saxophone and piano two elements meet: concentrated love song and whooping banshee-jig. Sailor's Hornpipe - The Sax-Happy Quartet is closer to the warm latitude and longitude occupied by Grainger's sunny inspirations. It's Goossens' mesmerising By the Tarn that is recalled in the second version here - for alto sax and orchestra. The Hymn and Fuguing Tune No. 18 for soprano and contrabass saxophones circles around the extremes of register of the two instruments. It reserves playfulness for an ungainly fugal finale. Cowell is heard as arranged in five versions by Grainger in the sorrowing Caoine. It's for piccolo, oboe, baritone sax and harmonium. It assumes a stirring grandeur in the fifth version with an assertive harmonium. The Saxophone Quartet from 1961 is a lively miniature as reconstructed by Krieger from Cowell's piano score. Cowell's very brief 60 contrasts well with the Quartet and sounds positively monastic. The dramatic Chrysanthemums is for female voice and a small ensemble. It has an operatic bearing.
The Grainger tracks: The Immovable Do sets an imperturbably serene atmosphere to begin with - warm as buttered toast. The delightfully folksy Lisbon is for five agile saxophones and is heard in low key and high key versions both from 1943. There's a third edition as well (tr. 20) where the tireless little tune is taken by a fuller saxophone ensemble. Ye Banks and Braes slows the pulse and warms the cockles. The Lonely Desert-Man Sees the Tents of the Happy Tribes is heard in one delightful version for Ulrich Krieger's passionately vibrant alto sax and the Glen Falls Orchestra conducted by Charles Peltz. There's another - differently packaged but just as good - for piano and saxophones (tr.20). Merry King is for saxophone ensemble. It's a curvaceous gentle folk melody - a gift. Molly on the Shore is well known and this is the first recording of the sax and piano original. The disc finishes with all 15:09 of the remorselessly incessant and hyperactive Random Round. It's for vocalising soprano, mezzo and tenor solos, guitars, mandolin, piano, woodwind and soprano sax. There's also percussion and it's by no means discreet; watch out for the merciless gong. One wonders if there is a similarly 'anarchic' edition of Green Bushes. The only blemish came in the last minute or so of Random Round where despite my trying several players there was a background digital 'ticking' and a tendency for the music to falter.
Mode encourage further exploration. Its catalogue is resplendent in the following releases: Cowell: Mosaic - chamber and string quartets (Mode 72/73); Dancing with Henry (Mode 101); Amiable Conversation (Mode 262/265). Grainger: Free Music for Theremins (Mode 76 and Mode 199). One day I hope that we will be able to review them here.
As for the present disc it is a valuable, enjoyable and superbly done revival of the saxophone-focused heritage of two non-conformist composers.
Air and Scherzo, for alto saxophone and piano, HC 897 (1961) [9:11]
Sailor's Hornpipe: The Sax-Happy Quartet, for saxophone quartet, HC 737 (1949) [3:30]
Hymn and Fuguing Tune No. 18 for soprano and contrabass saxophones, HC 928 b (1964) [3:56]
Sax Quartet, for saxophone quartet, HC 890 (1961) [2:56]
60, for 3 saxophones, HC 628 (1942) [1:25]
Chrysanthemums, for soprano, 2 saxophones, 3 violins, cello and piano (unpublished), HC 526 1937) [1:54]
Air and Scherzo, for alto saxophone and small orchestra, HC 897a (1963) [5:58]
Percy Aldridge Grainger
The Immovable Do (The Ciphering C), for clarinet (or saxophone or woodwind) choir (1933-1939) [5:10]
Lisbon (Dublin Bay), folk song for 5 saxophones (BFMS 40) (1906-1943) [1:26]
Ye Banks and Braes O' Bonnie Doon, folk song for brass or wind band (BFMS 22) (1901-1932) [2:52]
The Lonely Desert-Man Sees the Tents of the Happy Tribes (1911-1914) [2:39]
The Merry King, folk song for 10 or more strings or winds or both and piano with organ ad lib. BFMS 3 (1905-1939) [4:35]
Molly on the Shore, folk song for alto saxophone and piano (BFMS unnumbered) (1907) [4:08]
Random Round, for 3 voices and 10 instruments (set version) (RMTB 8) (1912-1957) [15:07]