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Glass, Nyman: Works For Saxophone Quartet / Sonic.art

Glass / Nyman / Velten / Doroshkevich / Posegga
Release Date: 01/31/2012 
Label:  Genuin Classics   Catalog #: 11222   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Philip GlassMichael Nyman
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Sonic.Art Saxophonquartett
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 0 Hours 54 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

GLASS String Quartet No. 3, “Mishima.” Saxophone Quartet. NYMAN Songs for Tony Sonic Art Saxophone Qrt GENUIN 11222 (54:27)

The debut recording by this fine quartet was reviewed by me a little over a year ago in Fanfare 34:5. The members of the Sonic Art Saxophone Quartet chose to make their first splash with a CD that they admit Read more in the notes for this release would “rub the hearing nerves the wrong way.” It is a great CD, one that I unreservedly recommend to listeners who are open to avant-garde music.

This CD is different, if still very much about New Music. The works of Philip Glass and Michael Nyman are little concerned with the outer limits of extended instrumental technique—though a fine technique is a must—or with exploring the expressive possibilities of extreme dissonance. To the contrary, they are concerned with creating an emotional response with the humblest of harmonic and rhythmic means: lines of arpeggiated chords underlying relatively simple and often rather popish diatonic melodies. It shouldn’t move one, but in the hands of these composers the effect can be both refreshingly uncomplicated and deeply affecting. Listen to the wistfully sad melody of the “Mishima Closing” movement and be amazed at how much can be said with so few musical words; it is, in a sense, the equivalent of haiku.

The playing itself is mesmerizing; it is a joy simply to listen to the precision and balance that the young German quartet achieves. One cannot help but be impressed with the seamlessness of the lines, the exquisite balancing of parts, the purity of tone, the precise tuning, and the way the players seem to respond as one. The technical polish generally suits this music well, with results that are both coolly objective and revealing of the structures of the music. This is most effective in the saxophone-only version of the quartet (1995), an abstract piece that creates much of its expressive power through the interplay of lines and textures. Glass’s original version, the String Quartet No. 3 (1985), lifted from the composer’s score for the Paul Schrader film Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters , carries more overt emotional weight. Sonic Art’s crystalline perfection and the rather swift pacing tend to understate that emotional content in this transcription. A comparison with the original, highly expressive Kronos Quartet recording reveals this ensemble’s relative interpretive reserve.

Nyman’s Songs for Tony (1993) also has a film pedigree; part of his score to Jane Campion’s The Piano is the basis for the second movement. The work voices Nyman’s grief over the death of his friend and business manager, Tony Simmons, and the last movement in particular, scored for a quartet with two baritone saxophones, is a moving reflection on that loss. I first heard Songs for Tony on a Decca Apollo Saxophone Quartet release, First & Foremost , and disliked the raucous first movement enough that I never revisited the work. Sonic Art’s performance has me re-evaluating that response. The newer performance still retains the rock feel of his song Mozart on Mortality , set in that movement, but the tone is decidedly more refined. The other movements, especially the soprano saxophone-dominated third movement, are played with all the warmth that I found wanting in the “Mishima” Quartet. Those who favor the Apollo performance may find this one comparatively lacking in character, but Sonic Art makes it work for me.

The engineering provided by Genuin is close and extremely clean, in keeping with the quartet’s style. Purists are warned by the informative notes that the pauses for breathing were edited out of the Third Quartet recording rather than using circular breathing, as would be done in a concert setting. There are alternatives for those seeking a particular Glass work: the more supple Oasis Saxophone Quartet recording of the “Mishima” Quartet ( Fanfare 34:6) is nicely matched with works by Gotkovsky and Escaich. Note however that the finale is even faster than Sonic Art’s, and thereby misses the melancholy. Fine recordings of the Saxophone Concerto have been offered by Tetraphonics (Cybèle, Fanfare 32:6), Amstel (Concert Artists Guild, Fanfare 33:5), and the more reflective but brilliant Raschèr on Glass’s own Orange Mountain Music label. Those attracted to this particular trio of works, however, will find the new release highly satisfactory; it is recommended with only the above few qualifications.

FANFARE: Ronald E. Grames
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Works on This Recording

Quartet for Strings no 3 "Mishima" by Philip Glass
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Sonic.Art Saxophonquartett
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1985; USA 
Venue:  Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Berlin-Dahlem, Ge 
Length: 14 Minutes 0 Secs. 
Concerto for Saxophone Quartet by Philip Glass
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Sonic.Art Saxophonquartett
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1995; USA 
Venue:  Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Berlin-Dahlem, Ge 
Length: 21 Minutes 51 Secs. 
Songs for Tony by Michael Nyman
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Sonic.Art Saxophonquartett
Period: Contemporary 
Written: 1993 
Venue:  Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Berlin-Dahlem, Ge 
Length: 2 Minutes 43 Secs. 

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