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Flux - Original Works for Saxophone Quartet
Jean-Baptiste SINGELÉE (1812-1875)
Grand Quatuor concertant, Op.79 (1862) [5:51]
Gabriel PIERNÉ (1863-1937)
Introduction et variations sur une ronde populaire (1936) [9:01]
Eugène BOZZA (1905-1991)
Andante et Scherzo (1938) [7:57]
Guillermo LAGO (Willem van Merwijk) (b. 1960)
Cíudades (Cities) [19:40]
Hugo REINHART (b.1958)
Quartet in F minor (2006) [18:39]
Guillermo LAGO
The Wordsworth Poems (2017) [11:21]
Will GREGORY (b.1959)
Hoe Down (2005) [3:24]
Ferio Saxophone Quartet (Huw Wiggin (soprano saxophone); Ellie McMurray (alto saxophone); José Bañuls (tenor saxophone); Shevaughan Beere (baritone saxophone))
rec. 2017, Church of St Silas the Martyr, Kentish Town, London
CHANDOS CHAN10987 [80:40]

There's a burgeoning market for the sound of the saxophone though I doubt that market is for the unaccompanied instrument. While it goes well with the piano and with orchestra this disc celebrates the sound of a quartet of saxophones each with a different register. Recorded recitals for the quartet format are common: Riga, Berlage, Stockholm, Chatham, Aurelia, Rascher, Kenari, New Hudson, Amstel and so many others. My introduction to the sax foursome was via the Glazunov Quartet which I had tracked down after being bowled over by the same composer's Saxophone Concerto. Here the Ferio Quartet and Chandos weigh in with more than 80 minutes of intrepidly chosen and usually original works.

The little Singelée, Pierné and Bozza pieces are from the French school. Paris seems to have been a hive of saxophone activity. The Pierné was written in the 1930s, the same decade as the Glazunov saxophone concerto and saxophone quartet. Glazunov had, at that stage, lived as a dispossessed émigré in Paris since 1929. Even the dedications of these works bear out the Paris connections: the Bozza "Pour le quatuor de Saxophones de Paris"; the Singelée to French opera composer Ambroise Thomas and the Pierné to four named saxophonists, the first bearing the name Mule - a distinguished family in saxophone circles. The miniature Singelée is a warblingly mellifluous piece - a Mozartean cassation with a dash of Weber and a splash of Hérold. The Pierné is from a more complex harmonic world - much more atmospheric and brooding. Essentially an innocent piece, its inventive ways might almost be those of Vaughan Williams in Norfolk Rhapsody mode. It ends in a flurry of entertainment. The Bozza is similarly gracious and pastoral in the Andante and bubblingly lively in the devil-may-care Scherzo.

The other works are from a mix of sources and all of recent date. Guillermo Lago is represented by two works.

His Cíudades is a 20-minute musical gazetteer of various cities: one movement for each of Sarajevo, Tokyo, Köln, Córdoba, Montevideo and Addis Ababa. The effect is a sort of "Rough Guide" traveller meets Ibert's Escales. There are quite a few minimalist ostinato figures and Nyman-like touches. Córdoba is the movement most frankly in touch with local colour. In general, though, Lago has crafted a suite that feels as if it is more about the inscape of one individual tourist rather than an exercise in nationalistic impressions. Montevideo sports tango influences so the composer does not completely reject the expected. The rushingly virtuosic Addis Ababa is sinuous and makes free with striking the instruments as well as typical snake-charmer caprice. It makes the perfect end and will bring the house down. One can imagine the suite being orchestrated at some point.

Lago makes an unpredictable choice of subject with his three movements inspired by Wordsworth poems. Composed upon Westminster Bridge babbles and muses in an easy-going flow. With Ships the sea was sprinkled far and nigh is a buzzing and chittering canvas with longer melodic trails to provide contrast. This work is dedicated to the Ferio Quartet. Wordsworth's poems also inspired Malcolm Williamson's Five Preludes for piano and another bridge, the Hungerford Bridge, had Christopher Gunning writing a substantial piece for saxophone and orchestra.

Hugo Reinhart's Quartet is a four-movement work with a classical jaw set - harmoniemusik softened by bubbling incursions from Spohr and Weber. The mask never slips across four movements of skilled pastiche. This piece has more in common with the Singelée than with its noughties contemporaries.

Will Gregory's earthy, chaffy and catchy Hoe-Down makes a Grainger-like (think Scotch Strathspey and Reel) toe-drumming end to the listening experience.

This is a kaleidoscopically varied and generous recital of tune-centred tonal music. It is played with aplomb and affection. This seems to have come with what I take to be concert familiarity with these scores, only a couple of which are even vaguely familiar. Chandos more than meet the music half way with the label's usual attention to warmth and punchiness of sound and well calculated documentation.

Rob Barnett

Previous review: Dan Morgan (Recording of the Month)



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