New Zealand School of Music
Fugue in G minor “Great”, BWV 542 for saxophone quintet (J.S. Bach, arr N. Woods)
Cantilene for saxophone quintet (Ida Gotkovsky)
PR Girl for saxophone quintet (Andrew Tweed)
Saxophone Quartet (Alfred Desenclos)
Toccata and Fugue in G Minor(?) (D minor, BWV 565) (J.S.Bach, arr. Guy Lacour for saxophone orchestra)
Tango for saxophone orchestra (Stravinsky, arr. J van der Linden)
Slava! for saxophone orchestra (Bernstein, arr. J van der Linden)
Conductor: Simon Brew, Leader: Reuben Chin, Artistic direction: Debbie Rawson.
St Andrew’s on The Terrace
Wednesday 25 May, 12.15pm
At the New Zealand School of Music, Deborah Rawson attracts a lot of students to the saxophone. And her success in getting skilled performers into the community, as well as in the periodic concerts given by students and others, such as her long-standing ensemble, Saxcess, is slowly bringing a realization of the place of the instrument(s) in the classical music sphere.
While the jazz world was almost entirely dominated by the alto and tenor saxes, with one or two notable exceptions like baritone player like Gerry Mulligan and sopranist Sidney Bechet, the classical genre has become more accustomed to the whole consort of saxes which, on the showing of this concert, numbers at least six.
No details of either the pieces (only composers’ names, not in order) or the players was available at the concert, which led to a guessing game, in which I scored poorly. I got marks only for Bach and Stravinsky; I obtained details later.
Two of the most successful pieces in the concert were Bach’s ‘Great’ fugue in G minor played by the quintet, and the Toccata and Fugue in D minor played by the orchestra. The latter, particularly, created a rich sound that did justice very interestingly to the character of the original. The fanfare elements in the Toccata were splendidly arresting while the differing ranks of instruments allowed the various fugal passages to be heard distinctly.
I thought it worked a little better than the Fugue, which was arranged for quintet (Reuben Chin – soprano, Emma Hayes-Smith – alto, Annelise Kreger – alto, Katherine Maciaszec – tenor, Geraint Scott – baritone). It was played fairly quickly which seemed to make it harder to achieve variety of colour; but I enjoyed the way the soprano soared above the others, and it was the one, like a soprano voice carrying an aria, that allowed touches of a humanizing rubato to surface.
Ida Gotkovsky was born in 1933 and is Professor of Composition at the Paris Conservatoire. She has composed for all main genres, including many solo and chamber pieces for saxophone.
Her Cantilene for quintet opened in deliberate manner, led by alto then tenor in plaintive tones. A second phase developed a lighter character, with arresting ostinati from tenor and soprano saxes. I was safe to have guessed this as post-Messiaen French: I hadn’t heard of the composer.
Andrew Tweed’s PR Girl was introduced by fast didgeridoo sounds (so I suspected he might have been Australian, though I find he is a British saxophonist/composer, born 1963) on baritone sax, followed by lively, entertaining jazz strains, modulating to satisfying effect towards the end.
The major work of the concert was the saxophone quartet by Alfred Desenclos, a major figure in the saxophone world, played by the quintet members minus Annelise Kreger. Written by the 50-year-old Desenclos in 1962, it could have come from no other national school than that of Françaix and Poulenc A website comment reads: “it is one of the very few really substantial sonatas in the saxophone repertoire… technical and artistic challenges abound.”
In three movements: Allegro non troppo, Andante poco largo, Allegro energico, it immediately created an air of expectation, as the introduction ended in a string of evanescent rising scales, and the movement continued in vivacious spirit. The second movement rose slowly from a somnolent state to a mood of peaceful dreaminess. The third movement set off with little fanfare motifs which accelerated in syncopated rhythms, and the four parts entered into a somewhat fugal episode which became quite excitable. But I was somewhat disconcerted as it approached its end to become aware of a certain tonal monotony in the patterns of the four instruments; would I have had a similar reaction to the music if it had been played by four stringed instruments? I don’t know.
Nevertheless, the performance brought it to life with a variety of thoughful expressive colourings and dynamic contrasts.
Then the saxophone orchestra emerged from the vestry: eleven of them: the quintet plus six non-students (David McGregor – sopranino, Debbie Rawson – soprano, Lauren Draper – alto, Hayden Sinclair – tenor, Will Hornabrook – tenor, Graham Hanify – bass), plus conductor Simon Brew.
Their first piece was Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565. As I remarked at the beginning it was a very striking arrangement, replicating organ sounds most convincingly. I was impressed too by the conductor’s decisive guidance and his ability to hold a lively pulse, dramatic energy and to command excellent ensemble. It was followed by Tango by Stravinsky, one of the first pieces he wrote after arriving in the United States in 1940. It proved a colouful, effective piece that the orchestra played carefully, with some fine comic gestures.
Finally came a short party piece that seemed to come out of Sousa, Ibert and Chabrier. I was surprised, on getting the complete list of music, to find it was by Bernstein, called Slava!; the name Sousa had occurred to me at the time without imagining it to be American.
All the players did a splendid job in all phases of the concert, in persuading us of the saxophones’ legitimacy as solo, chamber music and orchestral instrument.