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Maxim SHALYGIN (b. 1985)
Todos los fuegos el fuego
I.C.E. (Internal Combustion Engine) [10:43]
Death of a Mosasaurus [13:33]
Spring, Breaking [8:13]
Ashes in Birth [8:17]
Raising Waves [11:31]
Crabcade (Waterfall in Cancrizans) [13:28]
Stairway to Decay [7:04]
Endless Mordent [14:43]
Amstel Quartet
Keuris Quartet
rec. 2019, Muziekhuis Utrecht, The Netherlands.
TRPTK RECORDS TTK0050 [40:45 + 46:45]

Ukrainian in origin, Maxim Shalygin has studied with Boris Tishchenko in Russia and at the Royal Conservatoire in The Hague (NL) where he studied with Cornelis de Bondt and Diderik Wagenaar. He currently lives and works in the Netherlands. His catalogue is notable for works for solo musicians, electroacoustic works and ballet scores. “Being shocked by music is about pain turning into beauty and getting under your skin, taking away your breath; about everything stopping to move. I want to be scratched inside by sound and experience the fleeting, invisible beauty.”

Todos los fuegos el fuego is the title of a collection of stories by Julio Cortázar, all of which “share an exit into a parallel, magic reality, sometime near to our own, sometimes strikingly different from it.” Many connections between composer and author are pointed out in the booklet notes to this collection, but my immediate attraction to the work is summed up in a statement from the Amstel Quartet: “It is quite rare that we, as saxophonists, discover new sounds from our saxophones.” You may or may not be a fan of saxophone quartet music, but there is much here that will surprise and intrigue.

I.C.E. (Internal Combustion Engine) is a kind of organically expanding sound-field in which slowly shifting harmonies develop tension in fascinating ways, transitioning to the more lyrical Death of a Mosasaurus grows over the weighty tread of accompanying messa di voce chords, ending in a magical apotheosis of rising notes. Spring, Breaking starts in silence, the players setting the air in motion gradually through ostinato repeated reed articulations that commence and proceed with undefined sounds and notes that explore overtones and unusual textures. Shifts in perspective are set up later on, with dynamic layering of a new ostinato pattern with its own enigmatic tonality. Sustained notes weave their way through this maze of techniques, eventually creating their own alternate world to the ostinato figure. Most of these pieces run into each other with skilful transitions, and the opening of Ashes in Birth is another new texture in which the notes tumble over each other in close intervals. Beastly noises are unleashed, but there is always a controlling hand at the tiller, with a rhythmic beat set up using tongue stops. Refinement takes over, with another slowly developing chorale over which detailed figures unfurl, only to end with a musical question mark and a field of key clicks.

Raising Waves is another slow-moving mood picture in which block chords stand in silence like pillars rising out of darkness before quiet sound-field chords are set up in which there are always added qualities of flutter or breaths that ultimately take over and fall still. Crabcade (Waterfall in Cancrizans) is a remarkable narrative in music, which has a deceptively simple starting-point but is full of little quarter-tone corners, unexpected turns of phrase and an intense drama at its core that leads to a wild climax. Stairway to Decay has an almost church/folk-music quality in the chorale that it sets up, only to be undermined and submerged by unearthly notes and sounds above and below, creating a sort of ‘Sinking of the Titanic’ feel, the players ending up singing/speaking into their instruments in a very unnerving way. Endless Mordent does what it tells us it will, each note restlessly embellished and giving the quartet a quality of unusually poetic bagpipes as it moves through different sections, each with its own expressive weight and atmosphere, and leading to a remarkable extended resolution in the final minutes.

Between the two quartets my ears tell me the Keuris Quartet has a slightly mellower sound in general when compared to the Amstel Quartet. Both ensembles are entirely top-notch and deeply synchronised with the impressive music in this superbly produced recording. Both sound greater than the sum of their parts, often giving the impression of being more than just four instruments. This is a cycle of pieces packed with originality and innovative thinking, and has certainly rejuvenated my own feelings on the potential of the saxophone quartet. This is leading-edge music with substance and depth, and you should give it a try.

Dominy Clements

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