St Andrew’s lunchtime concert
NZSM Saxophone Orchestra directed by Simon Brew (Kim Hunter, Reuben Chin, Geneviève Davidson, Peter Liley, Giles Reid, Frank Talbot, Graham Hanify)
Music by Piazzolla, J S Bach, Debussy, Peter Liley, Milhaud, Johann Strauss Sr.
St Andrew’s on The Terrace
Wednesday 1 June, 12:15 pm
The woodwind (more specifically, the Saxophone) department of the New Zealand School of Music has become a fairly conspicuous player in the school’s activities. It’s led by Deborah Rawson, who, as well as being a clarinetist often seen in professional orchestral ranks, plays saxophone, usually the soprano sax.
While she introduced this lunchtime concert, the ensemble was directed by Simon Brew, an ‘artist teacher’ in the school.
The concert began with a piece by Astor Piazzolla which has become very popular, Histoire du Tango: the second movement, Café 1930. Originally for flute and guitar, it exists in several arrangements (evidently none for bandoneon, surprisingly), this time for Kim Hunter, soprano saxophone and Dylan Solomon, guitar. It starts secretively, plaintively, and becomes lively in the middle section as it moves from the smoky Buenos Aires café seemingly into the open. It was nicely played though it could have survived a little more seductiveness.
Then came an arrangement of the Allegro movement of Bach’s concerto for two violins (in D minor, BWV 1043), nicely translated to soprano saxes of Reuben Chin and Kim Hunter, together with the five-piece saxophone ensemble (consisting of soprano, alto, tenor and baritone saxophones). The foreign sound took a moment to adjust to, and even though Bach’s music is generally very adaptable to all manner of treatments, it was perhaps just a fraction too far from its origin: interesting rather than convincing, but very nicely played.
Debussy’s Petite Suite survived the process much more successfully, perhaps because Debussy worked in an environment that was host to the saxophone family (he wrote a Rhapsody for alto saxophone and orchestra). Petite Suite was an early work, c 1889, originally written for piano four hands, but was transcribed for orchestra, presumably with Debussy’s concurrence, by Henri Büsset; that has given licence for a number of other transcriptions. The ensemble, now seven after the two soloists in the Bach joined the ranks, played all four movements. The range of saxophones provided quite a lot of variety of tone as well as spanning several octaves, and the four interestingly contrasted parts proved very listenable. Cortège was bright and tumbling in character, successfully disguising any imperfections. It contrasted well with the more 18th-century sounding Menuet where the saxophones did seem a little anachronistic; on the other hand, the accents of the inner lines of the piece still identified it as belonging around the turn of last century.
One of the players had composed the next piece: Waltz for Saxophone Ensemble by Peter Liley. He introduced it in mock seriousness, employing the pretentious expression “world premiere” with nicely judged drollery. It was an engaging little piece, with hints of the charm and playfulness of Satie or Ibert; I’d guess it could have a life after its premiere – a rarer event than a premiere.
Two pieces from Milhaud’s delightful suite, Scaramouche, were arranged by Debbie Rawson for the ensemble with alto sax, which suited the music beautifully and was probably much easier to listen to than to play. The popularity of this music, Modéré and Brazileira, irritated Milhaud after a while as there were endless demands for arrangements, one for 16 saxophones. But I wasn’t inclined to sympathise with Milhaud, as music that people love and don’t get tired of is not in oversupply, especially of music written lately.
Things ended in the same way as Vienna’s New Year’s Day concerts in the Musikverein, with Strauss Senior’s Radetzky March, where Simon Brew invited the audience to clap, as is the custom in Vienna; incidentally, Brew exhibited singular panache as conductor, not only in Radetzky, but in all the lively and attractive music that this happy band of musicians played.