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Aria - works for saxophone / Gerard McChrystal

Mcchrystal / De Silva / Smith Quartet
Release Date: 12/13/2011 
Label:  First Hand Records   Catalog #: 13  
Composer:  Eugène BozzaClaude DebussyPhilip GlassGeorge Frideric Handel,   ... 
Performer:  Gerard McChrystal
Number of Discs: 1 
In Stock: Usually ships in 24 hours.  

Notes and Editorial Reviews

ARIA Gerard McChrystal (sax); Shiroma de Silva (pn 1 ); Craig Ogden (gtr 2 ); Andy Scott 3 , Karen Tanaka (electronics 4 ); Lemn Sissay (spkr 5 ); Smith Qrt; 6 Dónal Doherty, cond; 7 Codetta; Read more class="SUPER12">7 Nic Pendlebury, cond; 8 Trinity Laban String Ens 8 FIRST HAND 13 (73:37)

8 HANDEL Concerto Grosso, op.3/2: Largo. 6 NYMAN The Diary of Anne Frank: Why? If? 7 McGLYNN Aisling. Behind the Closed Eye. From Nowhere to Nowhere. 2 VILLA-LOBOS Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5: Aria. 8 GLASS Façades. 3,5 A. SCOTT My Mountain Top. 1 BOZZA Aria. 8 COWIE Romances: Nos. 1–3. 1 FAURÉ Les Berceaux. DEBUSSY Syrinx. 6 RAVEL Pièce en forme de Habanera. 4 TANAKA Night Bird

“I’ve always been fascinated by reflective music,” writes saxophonist Gerard McChrystal in his introduction to his new CD, Aria . He goes on to explain that he used to spend hours putting together compilations of favorite works designed to flow smoothly from piece to piece. One such was called Slows . One could be forgiven for immediately fearing one of those sonic wallpaper CDs sold to encourage relaxation. Happily, this is nothing like that. A concept album of music designed to “touch us to our cores,” it honors the memory of McChrystal’s younger sister, Paula, who died in 2004. There is little of jazz influence—for those expecting that in a saxophone recital—and not a great deal of contrast in tempo. The key changes between works will never jar. However, the selections are so wide-ranging that this in itself provides contrast, and the sheer brilliance of the playing will keep one enthralled.

McChrystal is Irish—Derry, Northern Ireland to be precise—and is professor of saxophone at Trinity Laban, London. He studied with two of the greats: John Harle at the Guildhall School in London and Fred Hemke at Northwestern University. The flawless, golden tone and the elegant, searching phrasing are clear evidence of this. He works in projects, where programming is a question of how a piece fits into the musical flow or develops an idea, rather than one of chronology or composer. As a result, even where sets of works are performed, as the Michael Nyman excerpts from his film score for The Diary of Ann Frank or the three Billy Cowie romances, they are not done sequentially or even contiguously. The stream of music includes a remarkable mix of styles and periods, from Baroque to Impressionist to modern; from unaccompanied to accompanied by piano or orchestra to works with chorus or an electroacoustic work illuminating a poetic reading. There are transcriptions of works for flute, for voice, and for oboe. There are a few standards written for the likes of Marcel Mule (Eugene Bozza’s haunting Aria ), Claude Delangle (Karen Tanaka’s otherworldly Night Bird ), and Jack Kripl (Philip Glass’s Façades from Glassworks ), but most were written for, or arranged for or by, McChrystal. Many of these are pleasant discoveries, but what is amazing is how well the diversity creates a satisfying whole.

The musical connections the program reveals are fascinating. Who would have guessed that a concerto grosso movement by Handel would so seamlessly segue into a song by Michael Nyman, or that Debussy’s Syrinx (as arranged by Jean-Marie Londeix) could serve as such an effective prelude to Ravel’s Pièce en forme de Habanera ? Of course, with such diversity there will be favorites. I am much taken with McChrystal’s stylish—though of course not period style—Handel transcription. The hypnotic Glass Façades is beautifully shaped and all the more effective for being understated. The romances by Billy Cowie are gems—pensive works of simple beauty and charm (in truth, playing them in sequence enhances this impression)—and the Aria from Villa-Lobos’s Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5, accompanied by guitar as in the 1947 arrangement by the composer, is as lithe and graceful as in the classic Salli Terri recording with Laurindo Almeida. Guitarist Craig Ogden deserves special mention here.

Some quibbles? I don’t really respond to Lemn Sissay’s poetry, at least the self-pitying verse, so Andy Scott’s performance piece, My Mountain Top , doesn’t work for me. Others may react differently. Other objections involve recorded sound. Michael McGlynn’s Aisling (Gaelic for “a dream,” the soloist informs me) would be stronger, and still dreamlike, without the enshrouding reverberation. Especially since, on the evidence of the clearer Behind the Closed Eye , the fine choir deserves the closer scrutiny. The reverberation added to Night Bird is done according to the instructions in the score, but Delangle’s recording on BIS, made in the presence of the composer, eschews it. I prefer it without. Karen Tanaka’s electronic accompaniment envelops the soloist most seductively without the artificial assistance. A final sound issue, most noticeable if the tracks are played out of the published order: The volume has not been well normalized, so there are noticeable variations in the level of the soloist from track to track.

None of these issues are really significant. This is a superb program of seldom-heard and new repertoire for the soprano and alto saxophone. Gerard McChrystal is a major artist who presents this varied fare with conviction and skill. I can’t remember a recent recital on disc with comparable range. McChrystal’s many collaborators, each named in the headnote, are all artists of the first rank as well. This is all reflective music, to use the soloist’s term, and after his sequence is appreciated for what it offers, one will want to go back and appreciate what isolated experience of the works reveals. Nice concept. Paula, rest in peace. Highly recommended.

FANFARE: Ronald E. Grames
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Works on This Recording

Aria for Alto Saxophone by Eugène Bozza
Performer:  Gerard McChrystal (Saxophone)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: by 1936; France 
Syrinx by Claude Debussy
Performer:  Gerard McChrystal (Saxophone)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1913 pub 1927; France 
Facades by Philip Glass
Performer:  Gerard McChrystal (Saxophone)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1981; USA 
Serse, HWV 40: Ombra mai fu "Largo" by George Frideric Handel
Performer:  Gerard McChrystal (Saxophone)
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1738; London, England 
The Diary of Anne Frank: Why by Michael Nyman
Performer:  Gerard McChrystal (Saxophone)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1995 
The Diary of Anne Frank: If by Michael Nyman
Performer:  Gerard McChrystal (Saxophone)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1995 
Bachianas brasileiras no 5 for Soprano and 8 Cellos: Aria "Cantilena" by Heitor Villa-Lobos
Performer:  Gerard McChrystal (Saxophone)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1938-1945; Brazil 
My Mountain Top by Alan Scott
Performer:  Gerard McChrystal (Saxophone)
Night Bird by Karen Tanaka
Performer:  Gerard McChrystal (Saxophone)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1996; Japan 
Aisling by Michael McGlynn
Performer:  Gerard McChrystal (Saxophone)
Behind the Closed Eye by Michael McGlynn
Performer:  Gerard McChrystal (Saxophone)
From Nowhere to Nowhere by Michael McGlynn
Performer:  Gerard McChrystal (Saxophone)

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