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Incandescence: Music By Women Composers For Saxophone And Piano

Higdon / Duke / Howie / Still
Release Date: 02/11/2014 
Label:  Saxophone Classics   Catalog #: 14002   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Jennifer HigdonFernande DecruckStacy GarropFernande Decrück,   ... 
Performer:  Alexa StillAnna Duke
Orchestra/Ensemble:  HD Duo (Saxophone & Piano)
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 20 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

INCANDESCENCE HD Duo; 1 Alexa Still (fl); 2 Anna Duke (a sax) SAXOPHONE 4002 (79:56)

HIGDON 1 Dash. 2 Lullaby. DECRÜCK Piéces Françaises. Dances autour du monde. Read more GARROP Fragmented Spirit. ABBOTT UndercurrenT. GOTKOVSKY Incandescence

HD Duo is the Sydney-based ensemble of Michael Duke, saxophone, and David Howie, piano. Both are natives of Australia, studied at home and abroad, took positions respectively in the U.S. and Great Britain, and then returned to take faculty positions at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, where this program was recorded. They have performed together since 2008, in Australia and throughout the world, and have made a specialty of new works by Australian composers. The duo’s first CD, Australian Portrait (Cala), explores that repertoire. This second CD has a different focus: music for saxophone by female composers.

There are several premiere recordings, so for saxophone aficionados this could be an excellent opportunity to hear works not otherwise available, at least in this form. Not surprisingly, the pieces all date from the last 70 years. The earliest are by French composer Fernande Decrück, who wrote extensively for the saxophone and whose music is flavored by her admiration for Debussy and Ravel. She is represented here by two of three works which she wrote in a remarkable final burst of creativity in 1943: Pièces françaises and Danses autour du monde , both for alto saxophone. These were dedicated to colleague Marcel Mule, as was the third, her better known Sonata in C?. Ida Gotkovsky is another French composer with a significant catalog of compositions for saxophone. Incandescence (2011) often seems improvisatory, though it is not. Her first work for tenor saxophone, it is, despite its name, rather muted compared to her well-known Brilliance and less captivating than the ingenious saxophone quartet. Still, this is a premiere recording by a major composer that deserves to be heard.

American composer Stacy Garrop’s Fragmented Spirit (1998) for alto saxophone and piano is a remarkably literal rendering of a poem, included in the notes, into an eclectic score that offers an atmospheric opening, loud clashes, snatches of liturgical chant, a scream, and an apparent final resolution. In fact, the dramatic arch of the music is effectively drawn, rather more so than it is in Australian composer Katy Abbott’s UndercurrenT (2011), a commission by the HD Duo for soprano saxophone and piano which purports to render the adage “still waters run deep,” Actually there is something rather lightweight about the work, and rather obvious, but it and the Garrop are well crafted, and each in its own way attractive and interesting to hear.

The program starts and ends with contrasting works by celebrated composer Jennifer Higdon: the hyperkinetic showpiece Dash (2001), and Lullaby (1990), a gentle, sweet-tuned piece for alto saxophone duo that conceals some surprising harmonic intricacy. Scored for several combinations of instruments, Dash was originally written for the Verdehr Trio—violin, clarinet, and piano—which has recorded it. So has the Verismo Trio (Albany), in this configuration for flute, soprano saxophone, and piano, and in fact, with far greater precision and better balance than we hear in this recital.

Precision is, in fact, the biggest difficulty that one notes in this release. Slower music, especially the more Impressionistic or atmospheric offerings, are nicely performed. Swifter music, of which there is more than a little, especially that which requires tight coordination between soloist and accompanist, is not rendered exactly by the soloist. In addition, Duke’s wide vibrato can occasionally create ambiguity of pitch, though it is certainly not his fault when Anna Duke hangs under pitch in the Higdon Lullaby . Howie is the more accurate rhythmically, and is a superb accompanist, though because of instrument or recording or touch, he occasionally can be strident where one might wish more beauty of tone. Balance between Duke and Howie generally over-favors the saxophonist, and in Dash , flutist Alexa Still is hard pressed to be heard at times. (I, in any case, prefer the clarinet with flute option, a combination which balances more easily.) It is regrettable, and if my primary interest was Dash , I’d look elsewhere. I am still, however, holding onto—and recommending—this recording, for the stylishly done French works in particular.

FANFARE: Ronald E. Grames
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Works on This Recording

Dash by Jennifer Higdon
Performer:  Alexa Still (Flute)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  HD Duo (Saxophone & Piano)
Period: 21st Century 
Written: 2001; USA 
Venue:  Verbrugghen Hall, Sydney Conservatorium 
Length: 4 Minutes 43 Secs. 
Pičces Françaises (8), for alto saxophone & piano by Fernande Decruck
Orchestra/Ensemble:  HD Duo (Saxophone & Piano)
Period: Modern 
Written: 1943 
Venue:  Verbrugghen Hall, Sydney Conservatorium 
Length: 18 Minutes 30 Secs. 
Fragmented Spirit, for alto saxophone & piano by Stacy Garrop
Orchestra/Ensemble:  HD Duo (Saxophone & Piano)
Period: Contemporary 
Written: 1998 
Venue:  Verbrugghen Hall, Sydney Conservatorium 
Length: 9 Minutes 15 Secs. 
Danses Autour du Monde, for clarinet, saxophones & piano by Fernande Decrück
Orchestra/Ensemble:  HD Duo (Saxophone & Piano)
Written: 1943 
Venue:  Verbrugghen Hall, Sydney Conservatorium 
Length: 11 Minutes 30 Secs. 
UndercurrenT, for soprano saxophone & piano by Katy Abbott
Orchestra/Ensemble:  HD Duo (Saxophone & Piano)
Period: Contemporary 
Written: 2011 
Venue:  Verbrugghen Hall, Sydney Conservatorium 
Length: 11 Minutes 22 Secs. 
Incandescence, for tenor saxophone & piano by Ida Gotkovsky
Orchestra/Ensemble:  HD Duo (Saxophone & Piano)
Period: Contemporary 
Venue:  Verbrugghen Hall, Sydney Conservatorium 
Length: 19 Minutes 21 Secs. 
Lullaby for 2 Flutes and Piano by Jennifer Higdon
Performer:  Anna Duke ()
Orchestra/Ensemble:  HD Duo (Saxophone & Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1990; USA 
Venue:  Verbrugghen Hall, Sydney Conservatorium 
Length: 3 Minutes 46 Secs. 

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