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Glass: Facades; Rogers, Muczynski, Macdonald, Painter, Fitkin: Contemporary Works For Saxophone / Lara James, Et Al

Release Date: 04/28/2009 
Label:  Signum Classics   Catalog #: 158   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Rodney RogersPhilip GlassColin MacDonaldGraham Fitkin,   ... 
Performer:  Lara JamesJeremy Young
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
In Stock: Usually ships in 24 hours.  

Notes and Editorial Reviews

FAÇADES Lara James (sax); Jeremy Young (pn); 1 Kathryn Price (vc); 2 Nicholas Kok, cond; 3 Snf ViVA 3 SIGNUM 158 (51:40)

ROGERS Lessons of the Sky. 1 MUCZYNSKI Alto Saxophone Read more Sonata. 1 MacDONALD Here Again. 2 GLASS Façades. 3 PAINTER Alto Saxophone Sonata. 1 FITKIN Glass 1

As most readers will know, the saxophone’s association with the emergence of jazz in the early years of the last century tainted its reputation for decades as a vehicle for serious music. Judging from this and many other releases of contemporary, often jazz-inflected, compositions, old prejudices are just about gone. In fact, the composition and recording of saxophone works is almost a growth sector in a classical music industry far too focused on recycling. Here, for those attuned to it, is relatively new music—all of the composers are living—much of it drawing upon the vitality of the improvisational genre, all of it accessible without being simplistic or pastiche.

Saxophone aficionados will likely know the 1970 Sonata by veteran composer Robert Muczynski. His Concerto for Alto Saxophone garnered a Pulitzer Prize nomination, and this is a piece in the same mold: well-structured, sensitive to the capabilities of the instrument, and full of engaging invention. If the Andante maestoso is more melancholy here than majestic, it does evoke a kind of film noir urban jazziness. The Allegro energetico is just that, to the point where James has to stretch a bit to keep up. Otherwise, the title work, by Philip Glass, is the most likely to be familiar. I love its classic minimalism, with slowly evolving motoric figures underpinning a fairly diatonic melody line. James floats the line well, if coolly, with great vibrato control, but her decision to overdub both parts is a misstep. She is a sensitive collaborator and might have discovered more in the work if she had played it with another soloist. What’s more, the overdubbed parts do not always sync perfectly with the nicely done accompaniment.

The other three less-familiar works are enjoyable. I particularly like Rodney Roger’s ebullient Lessons of the Sky . The version for oboe and piano has been recorded by Michele Fiala on MSR, but this one for soprano saxophone is equally agreeable, with the sax perhaps more characterful in the jazzy sections and the oboe a bit more poignant in the wistful central section. In both cases, the playful interplay between soloist and piano in this Ravelian work is a delight. Jazz saxophonist Colin MacDonald’s Here Again for soprano saxophone and cello is nicely lyrical, with striking emotional depth but an oddly ambiguous ending for a wedding anniversary gift. James plays it softly and sensitively, but gives up some tonal solidity in the process, especially noticeable in contrast to cellist Kathryn Price’s rich sound. The Christopher Painter Sonata, a James commission, is brusque and the most listener challenging of the works, but retains a jazzy appeal. Graham Fitkin’s Glass brings the CD to a nicely Satie-esque conclusion.

Lara James is an estimable, if not sensational, proponent of all these works. A well-known performer and teacher in her native Wales, she possesses a solid technique and sensitivity to the jazz idiom that allows her to create a sense of improvisation, most notably in the Painter. Her warm, somewhat reedy tone is well suited to most of the works, though she does not have the seamless legato or seemingly endless breath control of, say, Eugene Rousseau or Nobuya Sugawa. Her intonation is mostly secure, but not perfect. The recordings are good, with a generous balance for the excellent collaborators, though the overdubbed sax duet in Façades does not seem to be in the same acoustic as the orchestra. However, this and other reservations are minor in the face of the body of significant and enjoyable music that James has provided here. That in itself is enough for a warm recommendation.

FANFARE: Ronald E. Grames
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Works on This Recording

Lessons of the Sky by Rodney Rogers
Performer:  Lara James (Saxophone)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1985 
Facades by Philip Glass
Performer:  Lara James (Saxophone)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1981; USA 
Here Again by Colin MacDonald
Performer:  Lara James (Saxophone)
Period: 20th Century 
Glass by Graham Fitkin
Performer:  Lara James (Saxophone)
Period: 20th Century 
Sonata for Saxophone and Piano, Op. 29 by Robert Muczynski
Performer:  Jeremy Young (Piano), Lara James (Saxophone)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: USA 
Sonata for Alto Saxophone and Piano, Op. 56 by Christopher Painter
Performer:  Jeremy Young (Piano), Lara James (Saxophone)
Period: 20th Century 

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