MILHAUD Scaramouche1. HEIDEN Intrada1. HINDEMITH Concert Piece2. DUBOIS Sinfonia da Camera1 & • 1,2Harvey Pittel (a sax); 2Sunil Gadgil (a sax); Read more class="SUPER12">1Westwood Wind Qnt • CRYSTAL 353 (61:19)
& Music of J.S. BACH, ROSSINI, DE WAILLY, IBERT, BARTHE, ARNOLD, RIMSKY-KORSAKOV, 1SOWERBY
“Sex tour?” my teenage son queried incredulously, misled as much by the vintage picture of the six wind instruments tucked into the double bed as by his misreading of the title.
“Sextuor,” I replied, “use your French.”
I guess it’s a piece of late-1970s marketing humor, but this reissue of one of Crystal’s best-selling LPs from 1978, Sextuor à Vent, is far from a joke. Harvey Pittel, classical saxophonist extraordinaire, gets top billing. A teacher of great renown, he has spent 40 years at the University of Texas, Austin, producing a stream of fine saxophone artists. These include Todd Yukumoto, whose debut CD was warmly received by Paul Ingram (Fanfare 28:2), and Javier Oviedo, whose first CD I praised some issues ago (32:5). Sunil Gadgil, who accompanies his mentor in the one new recording included in this release, the Hindemith Concert Piece for Two Alto Saxophones, is not quite in the same league. Gadgil is pale of tone, and neither he nor (oddly) Pittel plays the piece with the energy or refinement needed. Interpretively this cannot stand up to Sugawa and Tse (also on Crystal), or especially White and Raschèr on BIS.
Elsewhere, though, Pittel’s smooth, sweet, focused French tone and warmly lyrical interpretive style are everything that one remembers. A chamber player in this release, his partners in the three other works named in the headnote—the original contents of the 1978 Sextuor LP—are the legendary (no hype here) Westwood Wind Quintet. They were the artists on Crystal’s first release in 1966 (more on that in a moment) and for more than 40 years a mainstay of the label founded by oboist Peter Christ. This CD joins 17 others in the current Crystal catalog, including 12 of their superlative Reicha series. The three wind sextet recordings help one quickly forget the unconvincing Hindemith. Milhaud’s deliciously sassy Scaramouche appears in an arrangement remarkably faithful to the original, and played with equal parts of high spirit and precision. The performance of Bernhard Heiden’s Hindemith-inspired Intrada is unmatched for poise, balance, and beauty of tone. Dubois’ delightful and otherwise-unavailable Sinfonia da Camera, a work that reminds one first of his teacher Milhaud and then of Stravinsky, is dashed off as if it presented no extraordinary technical and interpretive difficulties at all.
These are not the only rediscovered gems. As a makeweight, Crystal has added an 18-minute sampler of that very first release, including first movements from Ibert’s Trois Pièces Brèves; the Rossini Quartet No. 1 in F for flute, clarinet, horn, and bassoon; and the Arnold Divertimento for flute, oboe, and clarinet. Short works by Bach (a fugue from The Well-Tempered Clavier), De Wailly (Aubade), Barthe (Passacaille), Rimsky-Korsakov (a performance of the perennial Flight of the Bumblebee that will make you forget that you never wanted to hear it again), and Sowerby (the novelty encore Pop Goes the Weasel) fill out the teaser. I hope this CD does so well that Crystal decides to give us the whole 1966 program, and any other Westwood recordings hidden away in the vault. The vividly recorded tracks from 1966 have only a few incidences of tape saturation to give away their age. The 1978 recordings come up very well indeed, sounding full and detailed. I know there have to be many, like me, who rejoice to have these available again on CD. Other sax and wind ensemble fans who don’t know these recordings are encouraged to rectify that situation as quickly as possible.