Saxophones for all seasons from the NZSM

Saxophone Orchestra and Ensembles of the New Zealand School of Music

Music by Hindemith, Berlioz, Dvořák, Lacour, Gumbley and Matitia

David McGregor (E flat clarinet), NZSM Saxophone Orchestra, conducted by Kenneth Young

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

The puzzle of this concert was that it was advertised, and titled on the programme cover, as ‘Original and transcribed works from Vivaldi to today’, yet the earliest composer featured was Berlioz!  However, I’m not sure that I would have enjoyed Vivaldi on saxophones, so am not mourning the lack.

The items were introduced by Deborah Rawson, Head of Woodwind at the School, in brief, interesting and lively fashion – a model of how this sort of thing should be done.

Reuben Chin and Sam Jones opened the programme with Konzertstück for two alto saxophones, composed by Hindemith in 1933.  This, we were told, was one of the first pieces of chamber music to be written specifically for saxophone.  There was no doubt about the ability (and agility) of these two players.  The lively opening movement was followed by a slow movement with a beautiful, lilting ending. The final movement was jerky, even jokey.  Great contrasts of dynamics and timbres made for an exciting performance.

The next two items were arrangements of works by great composers; the first, Chant Sacré by Berlioz, was apparently the first orchestral work to include saxophone, and the composer’s own arrangement of it for saxophones has been lost.  This arrangement was by French saxophonist Jean-Marie Londeix.  It struck me as having a rather thick sound.  Although the instruments ranged in pitch from sopranino (played on the clarinet) to bass, there seemed to be little variety of timbre.  Some effects, especially from the bass, sounded quite weird – not that that is a reflection on the player, well-known musician Graham Hanify.

The arrangement (by British composer Claire Tomsett) of Slavonic Dance no.8 by Dvořák worked much better, I thought.  It was faster, with more variety, and more staccato playing, exploring the instruments’ potential and exploiting their flexibility and bright sound.

Méditation by French jazz, pop and classical composer Guy Lacour, who died only two weeks ago, had a grand opening statement.  Winsome passages followed, the whole work being beautifully played and very euphonious.

British jazz musician Chris Gumbley’s E Type Jig for Saxophone Orchestra, composed in 2011, besides being a lovely play on words was bright and breezy, featuring excellent solos in jazz style.  All the varied rhythms were perfectly observed as the solos went round the ensemble, although I noticed nothing particularly automotive about them.

The final work was The Devil’s Rag, by Jean Matitia, a Frenchman originating in Tunisia; the name used here is apparently a pseudonym for Christian Lauba, a composer who writes difficult and esoteric serious music, we were told.  This was a sparkling, fast and furious rag.  All the players were playing virtually constantly.  Not easy to play, it ended an enjoyable concert on a lively, happy note.  All the players exhibited élan and expertise, and the concert was a superb demonstration of the work of the woodwind course at the New Zealand School of Music.



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