Notes and Editorial Reviews
Trio after Brahms
in g for Alto Sax, Violin, and Piano
Partita for Alto Sax and Piano
Pictures at an Exhibition
for Soprano, Alto, Tenor, and Baritone Saxophones and Piano
Kenneth Tse (sax);
Rachel Patrick (vn);
Lin-Yu Wang (pn);
Alan Huckleberry (pn)
CRYSTAL 780 (74:26)
In case you’re wondering, yes, the Canfield listed in the header is indeed
’s own David DeBoor Canfield, who is no stranger to these pages in his capacity as a composer of note. From having read prior reviews, you will also no doubt know that Canfield has written a number of works for saxophone, an instrument he believes “most closely resembles the singing human voice,” and that some of those works were composed for Kenneth Tse, the acclaimed saxophone virtuoso on this album with whom Canfield has established a friendship and close working relationship.
One of the fruits of that relationship, however, the
Trio after Brahms
, was not commissioned by or composed for Tse. Rather, it was another well-known saxophonist and Canfield friend, Thomas Liley, who requested a trio for saxophone, violin, and piano in the style of his favorite composer. Canfield completed the work in February 2012. In it, he quotes no actual music by Brahms, but instead has written a piece that evokes the style of the German master in details of melody, harmony, figuration, and textures.
Brahms, as we know, is actually one of the easier composers to mimic, at least superficially. He had lots of would-be imitators, though there’s an elusive emotional resonance to his music that can’t be duplicated simply by assembling the basic building blocks of a piece in like manner, and Canfield was wise not to try. His trio is a canny confabulation—meant in a positive sense—of many of Brahms’s favored melodic modalities—the Gypsy, in particular—and methods of motivic manipulation, especially rhythmic—listen to Canfield’s scherzo movement (
). In the end, though, you know this music is not by Brahms, but more importantly, Canfield’s own personality and identity as a composer are preserved. Thus, the trio not only avoids any charge of being a mere academic exercise, it transcends its original request and intent. Canfield has composed a tremendously effective and attractive piece, and one that makes a significant contribution to the fairly limited repertoire for this combination of instruments. Kenneth Tse, needless to say, performs the very prominent and difficult saxophone part brilliantly.
Erwin Dressel (1909–1972) was not a name familiar to me prior to receiving this CD, nor does he show up in the
Archive; but according to the few biographical sources on him I found, he was practically a permanent fixture at the German State Opera in Berlin, producing at least seven original operas for the company between 1928 and 1963. He also composed a considerable amount of orchestral music, including four symphonies, a viola concerto, and a number of chamber works. Sounds to me like here’s a composer ripe for exhumation by an enterprising label like CPO; this sort of thing is right up their alley.
Apropos of the present disc, however, it should be noted that Dressel also took a strong interest in the saxophone. In addition to the Partita heard here—which, by the way, has been recorded before, by saxophonist Lawrence Gwozdz for Albany—he wrote two concertos for saxophone and orchestra and a double concerto for soprano, alto saxophone, and chamber orchestra.
The musical content and style adopted by Dressel for the Partita belies its date of composition, 1965. Overall, the piece could be described as very romantic-sounding, but major sections of it sound romantic in that neobaroque way that characterizes some of Saint-Saëns’s “antiqued” pieces; there’s an underlying Bach sound to the counterpoint and harmonic progressions. But then Dressel surprises the ear with the movement titled Canzone, a beautiful nocturne-like piece that once or twice manages to suggest Chopin, at least in mood, if not in a specifically referential way. I can’t imagine anything more delightful than the concluding Gigue; one just wishes it would last longer than its 2:18.
On the one hand, it may not seem that huge a leap to arrange Mussorgsky’s
Pictures at an Exhibition
for saxophone and piano. After all, it was conceived as a work for solo piano to begin with, and when Ravel made his famous orchestration, he scored the melodic line for an alto saxophone in the tableau titled, “The Old Castle.” On the other hand, this arrangement by Canfield is something more than a straightforward transcription. For one thing, the entire work is arranged for piano and four members of the saxophone family—soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone—but never more than one at a time, so that there is no overdubbing involved. Moreover, Canfield tells us in his liner note that he has “taken certain liberties with the melodic lines, added some contrapuntal figuration, and occasionally adjusted some of the harmonies.”
Given the number of arrangements to which Mussorgsky’s original work has been subjected—Canfield claims 550!—it’s pointless to pretend that this particular piece is still a virgin; that ship sailed long ago. So, the only questions to be asked are, “Does Canfield’s arrangement work?” and “How well does Tse bring it off?”
To the first question, I’d have to answer better than I expected, though to be honest, I can’t say that I care for some of Canfield’s additions and interventions, not a few of which strike me as making a parody of the original melody line. But then I also realize that the intent was to showcase Tse and provide him with a vehicle for virtuosic display, and to that end what Canfield has done is very effective.
To the second question, I can answer that Tse brings off his act like a true magician as well as a true musician. Throughout, his partners—Rachel Patrick and Lin-Yu Wang in Canfield’s Trio, Wang in Dressel’s Partita, and Alan Huckleberry in the Mussorgsky-Canfield
—perform admirably and contribute appreciably to the success of this album. Recommended to both saxophone fanciers and general audiences alike.
FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
Works on This Recording
Partita for alto saxophone & piano by Erwin Dressel
Kenneth Tse (),
Lin-Yu Wang (Piano)
Date of Recording: 09/01/2012
Length: 17 Minutes 7 Secs.
Pictures at an Exhibition for Piano by Modest Mussorgsky
Alan Huckleberry (Piano),
Kenneth Tse ()
Written: 1874; Russia
Length: 31 Minutes 20 Secs.
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