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Glazounov, Lefanu, Meyer: Saxophone Concertos / Kelly, Hamel, Netherlands Radio Chamber Philharmonic

Glazounov / Kelly / Hamel
Release Date: 05/15/2012 
Label:  Neos   Catalog #: 10910  
Composer:  Alexander GlazunovNicola LeFanuKrzysztof Meyer
Performer:  John-Edward Kelly
Conductor:  John-Edward KellyMicha Hamel
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Netherlands Radio Chamber Philharmonic
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

GLAZUNOV Saxophone Concerto. LeFANU Saxophone Concerto. MEYER Saxophone Concerto John-Edward Kelly (a sax, cond); Micha Hamel, cond; Netherlands RCP NEOS 10910 (64:46)

Here at last is the recording for which John-Edward Kelly’s fans have been waiting for almost 12 years. Recorded in 2000 by the soon-to-be-defunct Emergo label, it has been waiting in legal limbo until NEOS was Read more finally able to secure the rights to the recording. It is of particular interest for a number of reasons, not least for the recording of the Glazunov Concerto. This concerto is the most famous and most frequently played in the repertoire, so that seems an odd statement until one realizes that John-Edward Kelly was a student of Sigurd Raschèr, who in 1933 convinced the aging Glazunov to write the concerto for him. The serious works for the instrument were still few and Raschèr, having just heard Glazunov’s saxophone quartet, was determined to have a concerto by him. The composer initially resisted the commission, but was convinced by Raschèr’s extraordinary technique and sound. In his notes for this recording, Kelly quotes Glazunov as saying “Yes, for such a musician I will write a concerto!”

Kelly brings the same qualities of silky richness and unforced eloquence—which led Raschèr to choose Kelly to replace him in the Raschèr Saxophone Quartet in 1981—but goes further by returning to the original manuscript to correct the “many mistakes and dubious alterations in both the solo part and the orchestra.” Kelly provides his own cadenza, as he was encouraged to do by his teacher, rather than use Raschèr’s. He also conducts the performance himself, assuring that the concerto is heard as a dignified, reflective work of more than usual autumnal gentleness.

The two other items on the program present a marked contrast to the romantic Glazunov concerto. They are both contemporary works, dedicated to Kelly by two composers whom he has since championed as a conductor of the New York-based Arcos Orchestra, which he founded in 2005. Kelly has an ear for well-constructed works, but these works challenge the ear where the Glazunov beguiles. Opening with a bold orchestral surge, English composer Nicola LeFanu’s single-movement Concerto for Alto Saxophone and String Orchestra (1989) sets the alternatingly agitated and ruminative solo line against an often mysterious orchestral background that occasionally becomes energetic and aggressive. The essentially chromatic character of the music is made stranger by the use of quarter-tone bending of the line. LeFanu indulges in some mild extended techniques, mainly slap-tongue, but generally as punctuation for the predominantly and, as the work progresses, increasingly ethereal lyricism.

Polish composer Krzysztof Meyer’s Concerto for Alto Saxophone and String Orchestra (1993) is a work of deeper emotions in two contrasting movements: the first dark and mournful, the second unsettled and dramatic in its contrasting sections. The saxophone functions often as an orchestral lead as much as a soloist, rising out of the string textures and interacting with the orchestra rather than contending with it in the classical sense of a concerto. Again, extended techniques—slap- and flutter-tongue—are used, but sparingly, often as an almost musing gesture. The harmonic language is often dissonant, but expressive.

John-Edward Kelly does not disappoint. The modern works are as skillfully realized as the more traditionally beautiful Glazunov. He draws a fluid, open tone from his 1928 instrument which was built to the original Adolphe Sax specifications. Legato is smoothly done, extended techniques are realized with taste, and the extensive altissimo of the Meyer concerto is accomplished with apparent ease. The Netherland Radio Chamber Philharmonic plays well under both the soloist and guest conductor Micha Hamel. A most welcome release.

FANFARE: Ronald E. Grames
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Works on This Recording

Concerto for Alto Saxophone in E flat major, Op. 109 by Alexander Glazunov
Performer:  John-Edward Kelly (Saxophone)
Conductor:  John-Edward Kelly
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Netherlands Radio Chamber Philharmonic
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1934; USSR 
Concerto for Alto Saxophone by Nicola LeFanu
Performer:  John-Edward Kelly (Saxophone)
Conductor:  Micha Hamel
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Netherlands Radio Chamber Philharmonic
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1989 
Concerto for Alto Saxophone, Op. 79 by Krzysztof Meyer
Performer:  John-Edward Kelly (Saxophone)
Conductor:  Micha Hamel
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Netherlands Radio Chamber Philharmonic
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1993 

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