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Breathing Lessons - Music For Saxophone Quartet

Tanenbaum / Sampson / New Hudson Saxophone Quartet
Release Date: 07/26/2011 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 8559627   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Elias TanenbaumDavid SampsonDexter MorrillEddie Sauter,   ... 
Performer:  Scott Mendoker
Orchestra/Ensemble:  New Hudson Saxophone Quartet
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 5 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

BREATHING LESSONS Hudson Saxophone Qrt NAXOS 8.559627 (64:56)

TANENBAUM Saxophone Quartet. SAMPSON Breathing Lessons. MORRILL 6 Bagatelles. SAUTER Piece for Tuba and Saxophone Quartet. EWAZEN Rhapsody for Saxophone Quartet
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New music by living composers may be a difficult sell in the symphonic venues—though that too seems to be changing—but among many aficionados of saxophone music, innovation, even pushing of the envelope, seems a virtue and not a liability. Given the instrument, most saxophone repertoire reflects the bifurcated history of Adolphe Sax’s invention. Jazz is therefore a major part of the language of all of the works, if not, with one exception, the improvisation that is usually the major difference between it and classical music.

Energy is the other major element in many of these pieces, and that is certainly the case in Elias Tanenbaum’s (1924–2008) Saxophone Quartet. Driving, irregular rhythms and complex counterpoint are its most easily appreciated qualities, though a reflective central section, rich in complex harmonies, provides respite without reducing the tension. Tanenbaum wrote the work for Manhattan School of Music colleague Paul Cohen and the New Hudson Saxophone Quartet in 1999. As did all the composers, he worked closely with them in the recording in 2007, but died in 2008 before the CD could be released.

David Sampson’s (b.1951) 2002 Breathing Lessons takes its cue from literature, the 1989 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name by Anne Tyler. Inspired by this darkly humorous study of marriage and family, the composer has created a set of short portraits: reflections on the relationships and inner lives of the protagonists. The speechlike scenes, pairing the four instruments in free-form representation of conversation—disjoint, or lively, or combative—alternate with lyrical interludes inspired by significant thoughts of the characters. I don’t know the book, but aided by the short synopsis in the notes, this is more engaging as a musical concept than I would have imagined.

Dexter Morrill (b.1938) is best known as a composer of electronic music, but it is his study of jazz with Dizzy Gillespie and William Russo that informs his 2004 Six Bagatelles, a Third Stream composition. The piece was written to showcase the breadth of the New Hudson’s affinities. The form is classical, as are three of the middle movements. The focus in the outer movements—memorials to Harry Carney and Zoot Sims—is jazz, with an improvised cadenza leading from the bluesy fifth trifle to the sixth, which also offers improv opportunities for the composer’s friend, tenor sax player David Demsey.

The last two works reflect the best- and least-known in saxophone literature. Eric Ewazen (b.1954) is the most familiar and most-performed composer represented on this disc, and Eddie Sauter’s (1914–81) piece for the unlikely combination of tuba and saxophone quartet is one of the least-known works in the repertoire despite its being the oldest here. The performers obviously have great fun juxtaposing the two rich sonorities in the unpublished 1961 Sauter work. Likely unheard since the ’60s, its four contrasting movements demonstrate how easily the great swing-era arranger moved between musical genres. Meanwhile, Ewazan teases with a richly scored romantic opening, which quickly transforms into a lively, good-natured work that proves that new music need not be impenetrable to be inventive.

The New Hudson Saxophone Quartet is as versatile and virtuosic as we have come to expect from its previous two releases of American saxophone quartet music on the Eclectra and Ravello labels, though, for those who know them, this is much closer in style to the former. Said versatility includes the ability to match sound and blend to the piece, from the smooth silk of the Ewazan to the gritty in-your-face texture of the Tanenbaum. Sound, from sessions in 2006 and 2007, is close but hardly claustrophobic. If your taste runs to the new and sometimes challenging, this disc is warmly recommended.

FANFARE: Ronald E. Grames
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Works on This Recording

Sax Quartet by Elias Tanenbaum
Orchestra/Ensemble:  New Hudson Saxophone Quartet
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1999 
Breathing Lessons by David Sampson
Orchestra/Ensemble:  New Hudson Saxophone Quartet
Period: 21st Century 
Written: 2002 
Bagatelles (6) by Dexter Morrill
Orchestra/Ensemble:  New Hudson Saxophone Quartet
Period: 21st Century 
Written: 2004 
Piece for Tuba and Saxophone Quartet by Eddie Sauter
Performer:  Scott Mendoker (Tuba)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  New Hudson Saxophone Quartet
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1961 
Rhapsody for Saxophone Quartet by Eric Ewazen
Orchestra/Ensemble:  New Hudson Saxophone Quartet
Period: 21st Century 
Written: 2004 

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