The Eight Sounds
Sally BEAMISH (b. 1956)
Chamber Concerto for Saxophone Quartet and Strings (2008) [21:19]
Steven STUCKY (b. 1949)
Music for Saxophones and Strings (1996) [15:37]
Chen YI (b. 1953)
Ba Yin (The Eight Sounds) for saxophone quartet and string orchestra (2001) [19:51]
Raschèr Saxophone Quartet (Christine Rall (soprano sax); Elliot Riley (alto sax); Bruce Weinberger (tenor sax); Kenneth Coon (baritone sax))
Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra/Robin Engelen
rec. November 2008, Liederkranzhalle, Stuttgart-Botnang, Germany
I first encountered the marvellous Raschèr Saxophone Quartet in an Alba recording – In Memoriam Pehr Henrik Nordgren – which impressed me so much I nominated it a Recording of the Month (review). They were at ease with those contemporary pieces, so it’s no surprise that they’re just as relaxed on this new disc of equally challenging repertoire. Kudos to BIS for getting them on board, and for tirelessly promoting new music, which still forms a substantial part of their release schedule. That’s brave in a tough market where many labels are pillaging their back catalogues for the nth time or simply focusing on easy-to-shift core classics.
The Beamish piece is built on the Baroque conceit of concertino (small instrumental group) and ripieno (larger one), represented by the sax quartet and string orchestra respectively. I daresay even the untutored ear will pick up this interplay, but even more apparent is the sheer pace and personality of this well-crafted music. The Allegro giusto is fleet of foot, the close recording favouring the Raschèrs rather than the Stuttgart strings. The Adagio is altogether more interior, haunting sax lines underpinned by the gentlest pizzicati imaginable. It’s the loveliest of the three movements, highlighting the Raschèrs’ rock-solid intonation and velveteen delivery. The animated Allegro vivace is pin-sharp and playful, rounding off a most rewarding and virtuosic work.
That’s a hard act to follow, but the extreme dynamics and exploration of sonorities in Stucky’s piece does make for a pleasing contrast. It’s a work of concentration and character, with just enough of the latter to ensure it doesn’t outstay its welcome. Once again this fit and feisty foursome clear technical hurdles with aplomb, each member given a chance to shine. Not as readily approachable as the Beamish perhaps, but well worth a listen. Robin Engelen and his string band are models of discretion and good taste, giving the quartet all the room they need to dazzle and delight.
Chen Yi’s Ba Yin is based on the traditional Chinese sound-groupings of metal, stone, silk, bamboo, gourd, clay, leather and wood. Divided into three movements, the first – Praying for Rain – is an intriguing blend of liquid saxes and plucked strings. Stylistically it’s the most individual work here, and while some listeners may find it a little opaque to start with it does have a developing sense of direction and a harmonic ‘signature’ that’s most appealing. Song of the Chu has a more exotic colour palette, the sax tunes writhing above mournful and/or pizzicato strings. After that strangeness the ebullient Shifan Gong-and-drum has a ceremonial bounce that’s most welcome.
Another enterprising release from BIS, well planned and recorded, and one I’m happy to add to my growing collection of music for saxophone quartet; it’s a fascinating genre that’s well worth exploring, especially when the standard of playing is so high and the repertoire so varied. As always, the well-written liner-notes complete a quality package.
A most colourful bouquet; Beamish is the pick of the bunch.