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Philip GLASS (b. 1937)
Sonata for Violin and Piano (2009, arr. Dickson for saxophone) [20:12]
Concerto for Violin and Orchestra (1987, arr. Dickson for saxophone) [26:10] The Hours (2002): “Morning Passages” [5:37]; “Escape!” [4:20] (arr. Dickson/Barclay)
Amy Dickson (saxophone)
Catherine Milledge (piano)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Mikel Toms
rec. Cadogan Hall, London, May 2008; Air Studios, London, October 2016 SONY 88985 411942 [56:36]
Amy Dickson refers to Glass’ Sonata for Violin and Piano as “the most challenging work” she has ever played on the saxophone. Premièred in February 2009 by Maria Bachmann and Jon Klinabanoff in Pennsylvania, the work was commissioned by architect Martin Murray to commemorate his wife’s 70th birthday. Slightly problematic is that the original makes much use of stopping, a technique largely unavailable to a saxophonist (unless we were to move into the territory of multiphonics). The whole aura of the first movement changes, too, although such is the flexibility of Glass’ music that that is not necessarily a complaint. Andrea Cortesi and Marco Venturi on Brilliant Classics make a good case for the violin original of the first movement, wherein the music takes on a wistful, romantic aspect. Glass himself has commented on being in awe of, and influenced by, the romantic predecessors in this genre (his father owned a record shop and they listened to music together). On saxophone this is morphed into something more otherworldly. Supremely well performed by Dickson, she convinces all but the staunchest Glass authenticist, finding passages of beautiful brilliance. The slow movement has a haunting, wistful feel about it, with Dickson able to thin her sound to a whisper. A performance by Bachmann and Klinabanoff of the second movement can be heard here; the entire performance is on Orange Mountain Music 7006). Dickson again finds a different type of tenderness, less interior perhaps than Bachmann/Klinabanoff but no less affecting (a special mention should be made for Bachmann’s superb sound and sense of line: she clearly is one of those “endless bow” violinists). In the finale, the Cortesi performance falls short, sounding rather drained of life; Dickson and Milledge, in contrast, positively brim over with it. Dickson and Millidge find the emotional centre here perfectly, a bullseye in Glassian terms. Milledge’s articulation is pearly and her evenness is to die for. In an ideal world, therefore, one should own the Bachmann, with Dickson as an invaluable addendum.
The two excerpts from Glass’ soundtrack to The Hours are arranged by Dickson’s husband, Jamie Barclay, and herself, using Glass’ own handwritten score as source material. Poignant in the extreme, “Morning Passages” whispers into our ears. The way the piano shadows the solo line in the slow “Escape!” is magical, the difference between the true legato of the wind instrument and the “created” legato of the piano a vital part of the experience.
The Violin Sonata and the two excerpts from The Hours were recorded in 2016 in celebration of Glass’ eightieth birthday; the “Violin” Concerto recording dates back to 2008. While I welcomed the Naxos version of this piece (back in 2000!), liking it more than my colleague Marc Bridle, one has to admit the excellence of Gidon Kremer in this piece. Dickson’s version has plenty of punch from the orchestra, while Dickson injects her characteristic verve and enthusiasm into every note. The slow movement in particular is impressive, and haunting (one assumes Dickson is circular breathing given the length of the lines). The way Dickson interiorises the movement and completely makes it her own, especially when she uses her saxophone “half-voice”, is spellbinding; the close finds her with a mere sliver of sound, yet it is perfectly sustained. The finale sparkles and glints thanks to Dickson’s and the orchestra’s quicksilver response.
The performance of the Violin Concerto had previously been available on her RCA Red Seal “Glass, Tavener, Nyman” album released in 2009; those already in possession of this might wish to question whether it is worth purchasing, in effect, half an album. Those that don’t, needn’t hesitate at all.