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Erwin SCHULHOFF (1894-1942)
Hot Sonata (1930) arr. for saxophone and string quartet by Dirk Beisse [15:15]
Adolf BUSCH (1891-1952)
Quintet for Alto Saxophone and String Quartet, Op.34 (1925) [20:06]
Anton WEBERN (1883-1945)
Quartet for violin, clarinet, tenor saxophone, and piano, Op.22 (1928-30) [5:42]
Ernst KRENEK (1900-1991)
Jonny spielt auf; suite (1927), arr. saxophone, violin, cello and piano by Thomas Böttger [7:01]
Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1963)
Trio for tenor saxophone (or heckelphone), viola and piano, Op.47 (1928) [14:21]
Kurt WEILL (1900-1950)
The Threepenny Opera (1928): excerpts, arr. saxophone, string quartet and piano by Dirk Beisse [10:04]
Asya Fateyeva (saxophone)
Florian Donderer (violin), Emma Yoon (violin), Yuko Hara (viola), Tanja Tetzlaff (cello), Shirley Brill (clarinet), Stepan Simonian (piano)
rec. 2019, Sendesaal Bremen
BERLIN CLASSICS 0301312BC [72:28]

All the works here are Weimar-era, some, but not all, inspired by expatriate American jazz bands that had taken the French saxophone and repurposed it as an instrument of gleaming rhythmic functionality and sexual allure. The ultimate in this respect was the glistening straight soprano of Sidney Bechet, a phallic outrage quivering with vibrato, but the nearest one gets to that kind of thing here is Schulhoff’s Hot Sonata but not quite in this version. That’s because Dirk Beisse has arranged it for saxophone and string quartet. The tart interchanges of sax and piano are thereby smoothed out somewhat – quite purposefully, it has to be admitted – but which, to me, lessens the sinuous and yearning elements. It doesn’t limit the languid blues of the third movement – Schulhoff, like Milhaud, really ‘got’ the blues, unlike, say, Constant Lambert who thought he did, but didn’t.

If you ever wanted an antidote to the vitality and energy of Schulhoff, then roll up to the late-Romanticism of Adolf Busch. There’s not one single reason for him to write for alto saxophone rather than clarinet, though it’s quite well-known that, off duty, Busch enjoyed playing a bit of light jazz on his fiddle. Some of Busch’s compositions pass muster but this Quintet, with its axis of Brahms ‘n’ Reger is nothing but an essay in wan lyricism and sits very oddly in this programme. Webern’s remarkably prismic Op.22 Quartet for violin, clarinet, tenor saxophone, and piano says more in ten bars than Busch does in twenty minutes.

Krenek’s piece gifts its title to the album, four pieces from Jonny spielt auf. I’ve always felt the idea of this opera is superior to its music but never mind, there’s enough tango and caprice and that very enticing Scene III Zwischenspiel to keep admirers happy. Whether they will appreciate the arrangements of Thomas Böttger is a personal matter but certainly the chamber clarifications of saxophone, violin, cello and piano work well enough. Hindemith’s Trio, Op.47, a perfect example of his use of variety, colour and rhythmic complexity, was written for heckelphone, viola and piano, Op.47, though the alternative instrumentation of tenor sax is invariably employed, as here, given the lack of heckelphone virtuosi. Finally, there’s the almost inevitable Threepenny Opera excerpts arranged for sax, string quartet and piano by Dirk Beisse. Mack the Knife is followed by the Ballad of the Pleasant Life, the Pimp’s Ballad and the Cannon Song.

Saxophonist Asya Fateyeva is the primus inter pares in this release though there are numerous opportunities for genuine collaborative work from her fine chamber colleagues. She plays with flair and excellent tonal qualities and the recording is faithful, the booklet useful. Clearly the greatest music here is by Webern and Hindemith – the least ‘hot’, and susceptible to changes of fashion, in other words. The arrangements of the most popular pieces – by Weill, Krenek and Schulhoff - may not prove quite so popular to those unsympathetic to what’s being done. I quite enjoyed them.

Jonathan Woolf

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