Music for Saxophone and Orchestra (Alexander Rahbari/ Belgian Radio and Television Philharmonic Orchestra/ Sohre Rahbari) (Naxos: 8.554784)
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Music for Saxophoneand Orchestra
The saxophone was developed in Paris in the 1840s by Adolphe Sax, amember of the instrument-manufacturing Sax family established in Brussels. Itwas natural that the new instrument would have a particular appeal to Frenchcomposers and it found an early place in French military bands, graduallymaking an appearance in French opera for special purposes of orchestralcolouring. In America the saxophone proved of use to Sousa in the l890s, beforebecoming an essential element in jazz and in swing bands.
An astonishingly prolific composer, Darius Milhaud was born in 1892 inAix-en-Provence into a prosperous Jewish family. Trained at the ParisConservatoire as a pupil of Leroux, Gedalge, Dukas and Widor, he enjoyed closefriendship with a number of painters and writers. Among the latter Paul Claudelassumed some importance in his life, particularly when Milhaud was able in 1916to accompany him to Brazil, employed nominally as Claudel's secretary at theFrench embassy. Milhaud's earliest music for the theatre was for plays byClaudel. Now their association introduced a new influence, the music of Brazil.
Throughout his life Milhaud travelled widely, obliged, with the Germanoccupation of France, to take temporary refuge in the United States of America.
In 1947 he was able to return home, but maintained his teaching connection withAmerica in spite of the increasingly paralyzing effects of rheumatoidarthritis, from which he suffered for many years.
Among Milhaud's most popular music is the suite known as Scaramouche,drawn from incidental music written in 1937 for a production of achildren's play by Vildrac based on Moli?¿re's Le medicin volant, inwhich the figure from the Italian comedy, renamed by Moli?¿re Sganarelle, appearsas a pretend Italian doctor, of transparent incompetence, to help his master'slove intrigues. The original Italian play involved Scaramouche himself in thisrole. The new version of the play was staged at the The?ótre Scaramouche inParis in May 1937. The witty music by Milhaud opens with a lively movement thatmakes some use of a tune better known to the English as 'Ten green bottles,hanging on the wall'. The second movement has more romantic pretentious,leading to a final excursion to South America.
Glazunov was a pupil of Rimsky-Korsakov, with whom he collaborated inthe completion of compositions left unfinished by Borodin. He won early favourwith Balakirev, self-appointed mentor of a group of composers devoted to thecause of Russian musical nationalism but Balakirev's influence was soonreplaced by that of Belyayev. After the political disturbances of 1905 in St.
Petersburg, Glazunov was elected director of the Conservatory, a position heretained even after 1928 when he settled in Paris. As a composer, Glazunovcombines national inspiration with the technical musical accomplishment ofprofessional Russian musicians of his generation. His particular skill inorchestration is admirably shown in the Saxophone Concerto, a significant elementin the classical repertoire of the instrument, in which the possibilities ofthe saxophone are deftly exploited. It was written two years before his deathbut shows no evidence of declining facility.
It was with considerable reluctance that Debussy undertook a commissionto write a work for the saxophone. The American player of the instrument, Mrs.
Richard J. Hall, was nothing if not persistent. She commissioned the work in1895, but it was not completed until 1908, in a version for alto saxophone andpiano. The scoring for orchestra sketched by Debussy was only completed in 1919by Roger-Ducasse. Mrs. Hall had taken up the saxophone for her health andcommissioned various works from French composers to provide herself with arepertoire. In 1904 she played in Paris the Choral varie that Vincentd'Indy had written for her, and Debussy claimed it quite ridiculous to see alady in a pink frock playing such a clumsy instrument. In a letter the yearbefore to his friend, the writer Pierre Lou??s, he excuses himself for any delayin writing by his preoccupation with the composition of a work he describes asa Fantaisie, for which he had been paid over a year before, the fee longsince eaten up. 'For some days', he writes, '...I am the-man-who-is-?¡working-on-a-fantasy-for-alto-saxophone-in-E-?¡flat- try and say that without breathing.' 'The Saxophone' he continues, 'is a reedanimal of whose habits I know little: does it favour the romantic sweetness ofthe clarinet or the slightly coarse irony of the sarrusophone, a double bassoon...?'Debussyfinally allowed it to play melancholy phrases under the rolling of a militarydrum and named the piece Rapsodie arabe, rewarding Mrs. Hall's patiencewith a work that bears the unmistakable mark of Debussy at the height of hisevocative powers.
In the hands of the French composer Jacques Ibert, a master of woodwindtextures, various uses were found for the saxophone in music for the theatreand the concert hall. His Concertino da camera was written in 1935, twoyears before the composer's appointment as director of the Academie de Francein Rome, a position he retained until 1960. The Saxophone Chamber Concertinodemonstrates Ibert's fine command of instrumentation and a lightness of touchthat conceals a depth of feeling, heard particularly in the slow movement, itspoignant expressiveness magically dispelled in a final rapid jeu d'esprit.
Maurice Ravel's orchestration of the Russian composer Mussorgsky's pianosuite, Pictures at an Exhibition, provided the saxophone with one of itsmost evocative solos in the modern orchestral repertoire. In this movement, thesaxophone offers an antique, melancholy serenade outside the walls of the oldcastle. Sohre Rahbari concludes the disc with an improvisation for saxophone inJapanese style, making use of techniques of playing long familiar in Japanesemusic but with a certain novelty in Western terms.