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Heard Again for the First Time
Ingolf DAHL (1912-1970)
Concerto for Alto Saxophone (1949) [27:12]
Marguerite ROESGEN-CHAMPION (1894-1976)
Concerto No.2 (1945) [11:19]
Charles Martin LOEFFLER (1861-1935)
Ballade carnivalesque (1903) [13:18]
The Lone Prairee (c.1930) [3:48]
Steve COHEN (b.1954)
Trio (2018) [14:24]
Paul Cohen (alto & tenor saxophones)
rec. all undated, Bordentown Performing Arts Center, NJ (Dahl), Nicholas Hall, Rutgers University, NJ (Roesgen-Champion), Sound on Sound studios, Montclair, NJ (Loeffler: Ballade), Trading 8s Studio, NJ (Loeffler: Prairee; Cohen)

The saxophone sits at the heart of this recital though not every piece features it as a solo instrument. The works range over time, the earliest being Loeffler’s 1903 Ballade carnivalesque and the most recent Steve Cohen’s Trio, written in 2018. Each is engaging and has something to say.

The genesis of Ingolf Dahl’s Concerto for Alto Saxophone is clear but its subsequent history has served largely to efface the original 1949 version, which was written for Sigurd Rascher, one of the great saxophone soloists of his or any day. It was scored for saxophone and concert band and premiered thus, earning consistently good critical reviews. Even Stravinsky and Cowell were impressed. However, Dahl then embarked on revisions, rescoring it for orchestral winds, rewriting the finale and simplifying the solo line. I’m grateful to the soloist on this disc, Paul Cohen – who has written some of the booklet – for these details in his notes. Further revisions drastically reduced the size of the work, effectively excising a quarter of the concerto through cuts. It’s this doubly revised work that is often played but Cohen has gone back to the original, as a result of finding a precious surviving set in a reference library. Dahl had destroyed everything that he could find of the original work.

This premiere recording of this original work is something of a triumph. The band frames a solo recitative in the opening movement, with Weill-like sonorities evident. It’s to Dahl’s great credit that he gives so much important musical material to the band, ensuring a democratic distribution of themes. The result, too, is one of a colouristic tapestry amongst which the soloist both operates and comments, alongside his jaunty lyric episodes and the band’s replies. There’s even a Copland-like freshness at the end of this first section. The ensuing Rondo encodes both some militant elements but also insouciant alto rejoinders. This is not without wit and humour and the way in which Dahl situates the soloist is again highly accomplished; as an ally of the band and not, one feels, its inevitable superior. If you know only the revision of this concerto, which runs to no more than 18 minutes and is a different beast, lend an ear to this original version. You may well judge it a better work in its original form.

You will probably know Marguerite Roesgen-Champion as a harpsichord player rather than as a composer, but her Concerto No.2 shows that she won an eminent position in French musical life – she was actually, like so many ‘French’ musicians, Swiss - just as much as a composer as an executant. It dates from 1945 and is written for the gargantuan forces of alto sax, bassoon and harpsichord. It is, in this expert performance, only eleven minutes long and reveals some impressionist influence, its opening Prelude misty and sun-occluded as a Turner, whereas its ensuing Allegro moderato is much more obviously lyrical. Each instrument earns equal prominence and there’s a playful feel in the finale.

Loeffler is represented by two works. He wrote Ballade carnivalesque in 1903 but it was never published and it was Paul Cohen who rediscovered the holograph score of the manuscript and performed the work again in 1978. It falls into distinct sections but runs continuously and as one would hope and expect of the composer, it exudes a strong sense of atmosphere and colour. It’s a quintet, for flute, oboe, alto saxophone, bassoon and piano and Loeffler ensures that the instruments project warmly in the central slow section even when there are brief ‘solos’. The saxophone is fully integrated into the music’s fabric and increasingly the music gathers in fluidity, not least when the oboe and flute are involved. Charmingly played, this is a most welcome work in the recital. The Lone Prairee is ostensibly a cowboy song but also included in this brief piece is the spiritual Moanin’ Dove. Scored originally for tenor saxophone, viola d’amore and piano, here the viola replaces the rarer instrument.

The final work is Steve Cohen’s Trio for flute, alto saxophone and piano. It’s cast in three conventional movements. The first is refined, almost Gallic, though there are sparkling exchanges. The central movement is a blues, the flute stating the themes with the tenor counter-theming and then the two instruments entwining over the piano. The finale is lyrical and vibrant with a ‘Fast Afro-Cuban Feel’, as instructed by the composer.

Paul Cohen is clearly the major figure in this selection, and he plays with adroit technique and expressive musicality, whilst his colleagues are ardent collaborators. Everything sounds finely prepared but always alive and communicative. There are several different recording locations but that didn’t concern me. The recordings are all undated. These rarely encountered works are well worth hearing and the recording of Ingolf Dahl’s original version of the concerto valuably changes perceptions of the work.

Jonathan Woolf

Other performers
Roger Nye (bassoon), Rebecca Cypess (harpsichord): Roesgen-Champion, Concerto
Kathleen Nester (flute), Lynne Cohen (oboe), Roger Nye (bassoon), Allison Brewster Franzetti (piano): Loeffler, Ballade
Brett Deubner (viola), Allison Brewster Franzetti (piano): Loeffler, The Lone Prairie
Kaoru Hinata (flute), Allison Brewster Franzetti (piano): Cohen, Trio
Eastern Wind Symphony/Todd Nichols: Dahl

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