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Stellar Saxes - Hindemith, Nagao, Katoh, Lacour, Morosco / Tse, Sugawa, Murakami

Release Date: 02/24/2009 
Label:  Crystal   Catalog #: 359   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Jun NagaoPaul HindemithMasanori KatohGuy Lacour,   ... 
Performer:  Nobuya SugawaKenneth TseKazuo Murakami
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

STELLAR SAXES Kenneth Tse (sax); Nobuya Sugawa (sax); Kazuo Murakami (pn) 1 CRYSTAL CD359 (59:42)

NAGAO Paganini Lost. 1 Lovers on the Celestial Sphere. 1 HINDEMITH Concert Piece. KATOH Oriental. 1 Read more class="COMPOSER12">LACOUR Suite en duo. MOROSCO Contemporary Etudes in Duet Form: No. 1; No. 2; No. 4

I first encountered Kenneth Tse’s artistry on another Crystal Records offering called “An American Exhibition.” I favorably reviewed it back in Fanfare 26:3. Between then and now, I reviewed a four-CD collection on the MDG label titled “Jean-Marie Londeix: Portrait” ( Fanfare : 31:1). In it, Londeix played pieces ranging from the saxophone’s inception to its use by the most progressively avant-garde composers, and I found the results revelatory. Londeix was one of the defining instrumentalists of the 20th century—along with Pablo Casals, Andre Segovia, Carlos Salzedo, and Jean-Paul Rampal—who showed the world at large the untapped potential of their respective instruments. In that release’s wake, I find both Kenneth Tse and his compatriot Nobuya Sugawa, worthy contenders. Their exceptional smoothness of tone, blend, phrasing, and articulation would make Jean-Marie Londeix smile. Another virtue of this release is that it brings two contemporary Japanese composers to the fore.

Jun Nagao was born in 1964 in Mito, Japan. He studied composition under Masayuki Nagatomi and Teruyuki, and won the Toru Takemitsu Composition Award of 2000. His music is tonal and instantly accessible. Paganini Lost , composed in 2008, is a set of variations wherein the theme is only presented at its very end, and proves to be that of the last of Paganini’s 24 caprices—the same tune that inspired such disparate composers as Johannes Brahms and Sergei Rachmaninoff. His Lovers on the Celestial Sphere of 2006 is a dreamy and, ultimately steamy piece inspired by a legend introduced from China to Japan, which has to do with two characters, Atir and Vega, located on each extreme of the Milky Way. They are surrogates for our concept of man and woman. As the legend goes, they are only able to come in proximity to each other once a year, and when they finally do . . .

Masanori Katoh was born in 1972 in Kanagawa, Japan. He became a pianist/composer who, given the evidence here, is enamored of American jazz with its syncopations and blues harmonies, but is deeply attuned to his cultural background. Oriental , composed in 2008 for soprano and alto saxophones and piano, is rhapsodic and presents a smooth blend of seemingly antithetical styles, masterfully exploiting the coloristic possibilities of the two instruments along the way. I found this all too brief track one of the most satisfying on this release.

Guy Lacour’s Suite en Duo of 1971 drops the piano in favor of the two wind instruments alone, seemingly limiting the harmonic possibilities at hand. Harmonies could now only be deftly implied, as so many Baroque composers were able to do in similar circumstances. Lacour, born in 1932, studied with the great Marcel Mule at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique in Paris. He ultimately became a “pop” instrumentalist, performing in music halls, cabarets, and variety shows. Those influences are deeply sublimated into what I find here most refreshing.

Paul Hindemith’s splendid Concert Piece for two alto saxophones was composed at the request of the eminent German saxophonist Sigurd Rascher in 1933, alas, just after Hitler had decreed the saxophone as “a Jewish instrument.” Hitler conflated the saxophone with jazz, and jazz with social degeneracy. Hindemith, a non-Jew but an inveterate musical experimenter in the 1920s and 1930s (also a Nazi no-no), was lumped together with Kurt Weill and the always forward-looking Ernst Krenek, who also incorporated jazz elements in some of his music. All of them, including Rascher, ultimately found their way to America. Rascher, for years unable to find a suitable second saxophonist until his daughter, Carina, was able to fill the bill, finally premiered Concert Piece on July 19, 1960, at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y. Concert Piece is typical of Hindemith during that period—at once informed with Classical-period elegance (extreme economy of means) and a telling exploration of pure instrumental sonority as an underlying element in the piece’s design.

Juilliard graduate Victor Morosco (b. 1936) is a performing saxophonist who has won acclaim both as a champion of the art of improvisation and as a teacher. He has performed with Arthur Weisberg’s Contemporary Chamber Ensemble, the New York and Brooklyn Philharmonics, and the New York City Ballet Orchestra, among other established ensembles. His Contemporary Etudes for Saxophone in Duet Form of 1997 present elegant studies of both closely reasoned harmony and instrumental sonority. Jazz inflections inform all three played here. The first and longest of them (5:44) is gently melancholic. The second and third, at considerably faster tempos, become studies in meter and syncopation. All are closely related melodically, yet each creates its own individual sound world.

The ensemble between Kenneth Tse and Nobuya Sugawa is extraordinary. Uncannily attuned to each other’s musical impulses, they consistently achieve total synergy, sounding like a single person somehow playing two wind instruments. The sound on this release, produced by Kenneth Tse, is excellent, and reveals the sheer beauty of the saxophone in its alto, tenor, and soprano permutations.

FANFARE: William Zagorski
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Works on This Recording

Paganini Lost by Jun Nagao
Performer:  Nobuya Sugawa (Alto Saxophone), Kenneth Tse (Alto Saxophone), Kazuo Murakami (Piano)
Written: 2008; Japan 
Length: 9 Minutes 12 Secs. 
Konzertstück for 2 Alto Saxophones by Paul Hindemith
Performer:  Nobuya Sugawa (Alto Saxophone), Kenneth Tse (Alto Saxophone)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1933; Germany 
Length: 8 Minutes 58 Secs. 
Oriental by Masanori Katoh
Performer:  Kenneth Tse (Alto Saxophone), Nobuya Sugawa (Soprano Saxophone)
Written: 2008 
Length: 8 Minutes 18 Secs. 
Suite en duo by Guy Lacour
Performer:  Nobuya Sugawa (Alto Saxophone), Kenneth Tse (Alto Saxophone)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1971 
Length: 11 Minutes 19 Secs. 
Lovers on the Celestial Sphere by Jun Nagao
Performer:  Kenneth Tse (Tenor Saxophone), Nobuya Sugawa (Soprano Saxophone), Kazuo Murakami (Piano)
Written: 2006; Japan 
Length: 12 Minutes 16 Secs. 
Contemporary Etudes (6) in Duet Form: no 1 by Victor Morosco
Performer:  Nobuya Sugawa (Alto Saxophone), Kenneth Tse (Alto Saxophone)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1997; USA 
Length: 5 Minutes 48 Secs. 
Contemporary Etudes (6) in Duet Form: no 2 by Victor Morosco
Performer:  Kenneth Tse (Alto Saxophone), Nobuya Sugawa (Alto Saxophone)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1997; USA 
Length: 2 Minutes 4 Secs. 
Contemporary Etudes (6) in Duet Form: no 4 by Victor Morosco
Performer:  Nobuya Sugawa (Alto Saxophone), Kenneth Tse (Alto Saxophone)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1997; USA 
Length: 1 Minutes 43 Secs. 

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