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GERSHWIN (arr. Martino) A Gershwin Fantasy. WAIGNEIN Two Movements. PASCULLI (arr. Tse) The Bees. MUCZYNSKI Sonata. Read more class="COMPOSER12">MOLINELLI Four Pictures from New York. MOZART (arr. Wakui) Oboe Quartet in F, K 370
At the tender age of 28, saxophonist Otis Murphy assumed the position at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music formerly held by his erstwhile teacher, Eugene Rousseau, becoming one of the youngest music faculty members in the history of this distinguished institution. In the interest of full disclosure, I should say at the outset that I count Murphy as a close personal friend, and have written him three pieces to date. One of these, in fact, was premiered by him the evening before I wrote this review, and another will have been by the time you read these lines. Lest the reader believe that I am thereby prevented from writing objectively about him, I may say that quite some time before I came to know him personally, I heard Murphy give a recital at the 2003 World Saxophone Congress, a program that so impressed me that I knew that someday I would write a work for him. Most importantly, I know that my friend respects my integrity enough that he knows that I will hold him in any review to the high standards that he has already set for himself on the instrument.
As is typical among those who have studied with Rousseau (whom I consider to have reinvented the art of tone production on the saxophone, and who was the first saxophonist I heard whose tone I really liked), Murphy produces a gorgeous sound on the instrument, as far removed as possible from the stereotypical honky tone ascribed to all saxophonists by a certain—ahem—unnamed critic on the Fanfare roster. Add to this Murphy’s remarkably dexterous finger technique, and his world-class musicianship, and one can understand not only why he landed the prestigious position at Indiana, but the fact that talented students come from all over to study with him. I recently heard a remarkable recital by two of his freshmen students.
The present recital conjoins well-known works with relatively obscure pieces to form a pleasing, well-thought-out program. It opens with a compilation by Ralph Martino of seven of Gershwin’s most famous tunes, which provide a showcase for Murphy’s singing tone and his brilliant altissimo register (the end of the piece takes the player up to a high concert G, a really high note for the alto saxophone to negotiate) in this arrangement of rollicking good fun. Following the Gershwin is André Waignein’s Two Movements, a work by a little-known Belgian composer who writes squarely in the Gallic tradition of conservative composers, such as Pierre-Max Dubois and Claude Pascal. These pleasant pieces are comprised of a languid lament and a coruscating caprice, and make a most positive impression.
Next in the recital is The Bees by Italian Antonino Pasculli, originally written for oboe and piano, and arranged here by Kenneth Tse (known to readers of Fanfare through reviews of his CDs and an interview back in 34:4). The work is an almost unbroken string of 16th notes, akin to Rimsky-Korsakov’s later but better-known Flight of the Bumble Bee, which closely resembles it. I’m not sure if Tse’s arrangement calls for circular breathing, but it sounds as if Murphy employs it here. I do know he’s capable of this kind of breathing, as I heard him perform some time back a saxophone arrangement of Paganini’s Moto perpetuo utilizing it, leaving the attendees at that recital themselves breathless by the conclusion of the piece!
With Robert Muczynski’s Sonata, we come to one of the staples of the contemporary saxophone repertory. Muczynski’s style may have germinated in the soil of Hindemith, but he succeeds in achieving his own personal voice, just as did Bernhard Heiden, a former pupil of Hindemith, and composer of the first Saxophone Sonata. Muczynski’s brief (seven-minute) sonata contains two movements, a rather slow and unsettled Andante maestoso and a vigorous Allegro energico. Murphy’s reading is as at least as good as any of the several live performances by well-known saxophonists that I’ve encountered in the many saxophone events I’ve attended. Roberto Molinelli’s Four Pictures from New York is, on the other hand, a work new to my ears. Originally scored for alto saxophone and orchestra, it is played here in a version with piano. Its four sections are meant to represent daybreak in Manhattan (through a gentle and serene setting with a beautiful singing line), the many tango clubs in the city (a boisterous Piazzolla-like piece, although it provides Murphy an opportunity to produce a gorgeous pianissimo), a sentimental evening in the city portrayed by a jazz ballad, and finally the boisterous Broadway scene. Although the final movement has something of a French flavor to my ears, the work is nevertheless most evocative of the venue it is meant to depict, and surely its Italian composer has visited at some point the city he portrays in this work.
The disc closes with Mozart’s F-Major Oboe Quartet in a transcription for soprano saxophone and saxophone quartet. Making what was originally a work for one wind instrument and three contrasting strings into one where the solo oboe has been taken over by an instrument of the same color as four others, the main challenge here is to maintain a distinction in the voices, such that the solo part would not get lost in the ensemble. It sounds to my ears that arranger Wakui has achieved this by substituting the usual soprano saxophone of the quartet for a second alto, so that Murphy’s soprano instrument taking the original oboe part is all the more discernable.
Apart from the wonderful saxophone playing on this CD, praise must also be showered on Murphy’s accompanist, Haruko Murphy, a former student of the renowned Menahem Pressler. She is the wife of the artist, and plays with technical brilliance and musical elegance. This husband and wife team has been playing together as a duo for many years now.
The recordings comprising this CD have come from a variety of venues (the Molinelli is taken from a live performance from Tokyo), but their sound is remarkably and pleasingly consistent. The obvious market for this CD is that of saxophonists and aficionados of the instrument, which include this reviewer. However, I also highly recommend it to any readers who might like to stretch their musical horizons in perhaps new directions, and hear some music-making of the highest caliber.
Quartet for Oboe and Strings in F major, K 370 (368b)by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Performer:
Otis Murphy ()
Masato Kumoi Saxophone Quartet
Period: Classical Written: 1781; Munich, Germany Date of Recording: 07/27/2010 Venue: Recital Hall, Dolce Gakki, Tokyo, Japan Length: 14 Minutes 29 Secs.
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