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AN 2 9953

Brillance: Ragtime to Modernism

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Brillance: Ragtime to Modernism

The son of a wind instrument maker, Adolphe Sax (1814-1894) began making his own clarinets, completing one with 24 keys before the age of 20. After perfecting valved bugles – soon renamed Sax’s horns or saxhorns in his honour – he focused on the instrument which was to make him famous: the saxophone. As he explained in his patent in 1846, he wished to create “an instrument, which by the character of its voice can be reconciled with stringed instruments, but which possesses more force and intensity than the strings.”

Unfortunately, the saxophone arrived too late in the history of music to succeed in establishing a place for itself in classical orchestras, whose standard configuration was already more or less fixed in the 19th century. Only in the 1920s did the instrument attain its hour of glory. We might be tempted to believe that jazz stirred up the saxophone’s popularity. We should rather reword the equation: its popularity convinced musicians in jazz orchestras to include it in their ranks.

Able to adopt a brilliant – one could even say athletic – register, as well as to dissolve in emotion resembling that of the human voice, the saxophone has turned out to be one of the most versatile of wind instruments. Essential elements of its palette include the production of percussive sounds (slap-tongue), continuous airflow, multiphonics and varied attack modes. Alternately tender or playful, it surprises and seduces. Its power blends marvellously with that of the piano. The latter doesn’t just play a supporting role here but is offered all the freedom necessary for a dialogue with an astonishingly complementary partner. This recording by the Gaulin-Riverin Duo proves it beyond a doubt by offering an eclectic panorama of pieces that European and American composers have dedicated to such duets throughout the 20th century.

Devil’s Rag by Jean Matitia (composer Christian Lauba’s pseudonym) recalls the golden age of American musical comedy. “I was struck by that music. Its upbeat sophistication impressed me and I wanted to express it with my own music, in the guise of difficult entertainment, because virtuosity is a form of expression,” he explained in an interview.

Fernande Breilh-Decruck’s imposing catalogue for saxophone (over 40 works) has sadly been almost entirely forgotten since her death, but her Sonata in C-sharp has regained its popularity in the last few years. Dedicated to the renowned virtuoso Marcel Mule, the Sonata is made up of four movements, in which “Fileuse” takes the place of the traditional scherzo. Reliant on the harmonic vocabulary of the Impressionists and the lyricism of the Romantic sonata, the work also makes numerous incursions into polytonality.

Written only a few years earlier for Cecil Leeson (whom the composer accompanied during the 1930’s), Paul Creston’s Sonata remains a fundamental piece for saxophone, banking on multiple styles and a palette of sound tending to extremes. In “With Vigor” the infectious energy of the first theme is tempered by a second motif displaying great freedom. “With Tranquility” claims to be an exquisite cantilena in 5/4 that thrusts the listener into a state of weightlessness. “With Gaiety” overflows with vitality, as the musicians seem to be truly biting into the text. In 1997, this sonata became the first milestone of a fruitful collaboration between Mathieu Gaulin and Jacynthe Riverin, as the performers offered music lovers in Rouyn-Noranda a final concert before continuing their respective studies in Montreal.

William Albright’s Sonata rapidly gained its place on the map. Digging its roots as much in minimalism and atonality as in be-bop, it manages, in its four movements, to be both lyrical and brutally forceful, often passing from one mood to the other in the same breath. “Two-Part Invention” alternates between atonal counterpoint, free cadences and minimalist passages, paving the way for the chaconne that follows. An explosive scherzo, starting from a restrained melodic unit then hurls itself into “Recitative and Dance”, a long solo that dissolves into a boisterous be-bop.

A protégée of Olivier Messiaen and Nadia Boulanger, Ida-Rose Esther Gotkovsky is known for her particularly varied catalogue. She believed in the necessity of “creating a universal musical art and to realize the oneness of musical expression through the ages by means of a contemporary musical language with powerful structures.” Her work Brillance teems with contrasts, tackling in turn the registers of recited poetry, almost childlike teasing, tranquillity and effervescence.

The instrument’s greatest American promulgator at the beginning of the 20th century, Rudy Wiedoeft, became known for an imposing series of recordings. His Sax-o-phobia, from 1918, is the saxophone solo that has seen the greatest sales in history. Valse vanité was composed to highlight melodic sonority and virtuosity not devoid of a certain charm.

At the other end of the spectrum, Klonos by Piet Swerts, a work imposed at the Tromp International Music Competition, claims to be a breathtaking bravura piece. The Greek term refers to “a contraction close to a muscle cramp, associated with the wide movements performed by saxophonists in the heat of the action,” the Belgian composer explained. This fiery work brings to an end our overview of the repertoire for saxophone and piano.

© Lucie Renaud
Translation by Annie P. Prothin

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AN 2 9521 Jordan Pal Into The Wonder
AN 2 9521 Jordan Pal Into The Wonder
AN 2 9521 Jordan Pal Into The Wonder
AN 2 9521 Jordan Pal Into The Wonder

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