MusicWeb International One of the most grown-up review sites around 2024
60,000 reviews
... and still writing ...

Search MusicWeb Here Acte Prealable Polish CDs

Presto Music CD retailer
Founder: Len Mullenger                                    Editor in Chief:John Quinn             

Some items
to consider

new MWI
Current reviews

old MWI
pre-2023 reviews

paid for

Acte Prealable Polish recordings

Forgotten Recordings
Forgotten Recordings
All Forgotten Records Reviews

Troubadisc Weinberg- TROCD01450

All Troubadisc reviews

FOGHORN Classics

Brahms String Quartets

All Foghorn Reviews

All HDTT reviews

Songs to Harp from
the Old and New World

all Nimbus reviews

all tudor reviews

Follow us on Twitter

Editorial Board
MusicWeb International
Founding Editor
Rob Barnett
Editor in Chief
John Quinn
Contributing Editor
Ralph Moore
   David Barker
Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb Founder
   Len Mullenger


Guillaume SAINT-JAMES (b. 1967)
La Symphonie “Bleu” – A Workman's Symphony (2019) [37:37]
Sketches of Seven - Concerto for accordion (2018) [25:21]
Guillaume Saint-James (saxophones)
Didier Ithusarry (accordion)
Orchestre Victor Hugo Franche-Comté/Jean-François Verdier
Orchestre National De Bretagne/Aurélien Azan Zielinski
rec. July 2020, Auditorium du Conservatoire à Rayonnement Regional de Grand Besançon Métropole; September 2019, Rennes.

French saxophonist and composer, Guillaume Saint-James is front and centre here. The CD offers two quite recent works - a symphony and a concerto. These are conventional enough titles but in this composer’s case the works they identify are unconventional at close quarters; at least in classical music circles. The symphony is in five movements and the composer is present with the orchestra, playing various registers of saxophone. The accordion concerto identifies itself as a concerto only in the subsidiary title and is in Seven Sketches. Both works rejoice in a bristlingly kinetic and often aggressive jazzy style.

A little background on Guillaume Saint-James. He leads his own sextet (Jazzarium) and since 2008 has been the moving force for the festival "Jazz aux Ecluses" in Hédé in Brittany. His compositions include works inspired by Jacques Tati and Serge Gainsbourg. His "Brothers In Arts" dates from 2014 and is another symphonic piece but this time written with Chris Brubeck (son of Dave Brubeck). It is a tribute written for the 70th anniversary of D­Day and the liberation of Europe.

The disc’s notes about La Symphonie “Bleu” say: “The work reveals, quite poetically, the sounds and musicality of the steel industry, the sea world, that of the clock and watchmaking industry which Besançon is notably renowned for having the best. … I cannot resist the temptation of thinking of “the Blues” in association with the denim blue color of the workman's overalls … I wished to pay tribute to the noble work of manual workers. In a world of automated production lines and mass production where machines have little by little replaced the worker, the uniqueness of what continues to be handmade, of craftsmanship and the spirit of this remains vital.” The work was premiered in Rennes in 2018.

The first thing that struck me about this work was the recording. It’s of startling clarity. The five movements are: 1 ‘Monsieur Arthur’ (Honegger); 2 ‘Monsieur Victor’ (Hugo); 3 ‘Monsieur Jacques’ (Tati); 4 ‘Monsieur Fred’ (ie Lippman); 5 ‘Monsieur Charlie’ (ie Chaplin). These people in their different ways relate to or celebrate the labour of the workman.

Honegger’s Pacific 231 is very much in chugging evidence at the start. Along the way Saint-James’ saxophone can be heard with themes purposefully entwined and thrust in forward motion. There are a few moments when seemingly electronic warbling suggests the worlds of Bebe Barron and Delia Derbyshire. Next thing, at 3:54, the ideas used seem to have escaped from Bernstein. Saint-James is not afraid to repeat cells and episodes and his aria-singing saxophone is at the focus of things. A tubular bell resounds and a cymbal clash ends the movement in sonorous decay.

‘Monsieur Victor’ groaningly evokes a slinky tour of the dives of some port city. ‘Monsieur Jacques’ has a humorous woodpecker-chugging insistence. Other moments suggest links with the sort of jazz heard in Bill Conti’s title music for the 1980s TV programme Cagney and Lacey. The others need no commentary but who is ‘Monsieur Fred’ (Lippman)? His movement revolves around a violin solo and saxophone writing evocative of Sondheim-like romance. Chaplin has prompted classical works before including movements from pieces by Koechlin and Aubert. This last movement’s chugging, bubbling, somehow anarchic energy is tense. It reminds me strongly of Franco Piersanti’s captivating, propulsive, oddball music for the Italian television series Inspector Montalbano.

Classical works with or involving the accordion(s) have been written by Grainger, Holbrooke, Prokofiev, Gubaidulina, Aho, Kagel, Penderecki. Koppel and Ruders. There is a disc of Arne Nordheim’s concertina works and another - a concerto in fact - on Naxos by Maltese composer, Camilleri. In 2016 Saint-James composed a concerto for accordion and orchestra. It was entitled Sketches of Seven about the seven deadly sins. This was later expanded for a saxophone quartet and, with a further sin added, renamed Les Huit Péchés Capitaux (The Eight Deadly Sins). The French titles are used.

The accordionist, Didier Ithursarry, a long-time associate of Saint-James, is rarely rested in Sketches of Seven. Movement 1: ‘L’Orgueil’ is an essay in sturdy chugging and heavy-weather lyricism. ‘La Luxure’ is more about rhythm than melody, and threat is woven into the fabric of what we hear. ‘La Gourmandise’ uses an appropriately tubby tuba with brass figures striking upwards like the flames of a medieval kitchen. ‘La Paresse’ is unhurried; just the right side of static. ‘La Colère’ takes the form of a remorseless march but with blood on the claws of the marching horde. ‘L’Avarice’ centres on a quiet and pinched starry shining that shambles along. In the finale, ‘L’Envie’, the composer manages to wring victory from a sketch that ends in climactic dissonance.

The notes shed light on the two works, the composer and the performers but they are eccentrically structured.

Rob Barnett

Advertising on

Donate and keep us afloat


New Releases

Naxos Classical
All Naxos reviews

Hyperion recordings
All Hyperion reviews

Foghorn recordings
All Foghorn reviews

Troubadisc recordings
All Troubadisc reviews

all Bridge reviews

all cpo reviews

Divine Art recordings
Click to see New Releases
Get 10% off using code musicweb10
All Divine Art reviews

All Eloquence reviews

Lyrita recordings
All Lyrita Reviews


Wyastone New Releases
Obtain 10% discount

Subscribe to our free weekly review listing