“French Connection” = FRANCOIS BORNE: Fantasie brilliante on airs from Carmen; ROBERT MUCZINSKI: Sonata; PIET SWERTS: Klonos; LOUS MAYEUR: Grande Fantasie Brillante on The Carnival of Venice; EDISON DENISOV: Sonata; DARIS MILHAUD: Scaramouche – Hayrapet Arakelyan, saxophone/ Jang Eun Bae, piano – ARS Production multichannel SACD 38 112, 58:24 [Distr. by Naxos] ****:
The title here seems a stretch, since Adolph Sax—the inventor of the saxophone—was Belgian, and only the first and last composers represented here meet the French qualification. Two of them are Belgian, and of course Denisov is Russian, given his first name by parents who idolized Thomas Edison. But what the heck, Belgium is pretty close.
The inclusion of two pieces using the 19th century form of variations on opera arias or popular melodies is a good idea. The virtuosic variations on the tunes are not that different from the use of the saxophone in the jazz world. The Borne work was arranged from an original for flute and piano, while the reworking of The Carnival of Venice was created especially for the new saxophone invention of Sax, and in fact Sax himself edited it.
The two sax sonatas are quite different. That of Muczinski is two movements in a neoclassical style, with some lovely cantabile melodies. Denisov’s Sonata has the usual three movements, but makes use of dodecaphonic writing. The last movements of both sonatas reveal jazz elements.
The closing work is one of the most popular works of Darius Milhaud, named after a character in the commedia dell’arte plays of Moliére. The composer first wrote it for two pianos (which I have played in; great fun) and later re-wrote it both for sax and orchestra and sax and piano. Written while Milhaud was in Brazil, the work is an exuberant mix of fox-trot, polytonality, aleatory music, and samba. It seems designed to be perfectly suitable to the qualities of the saxophone, and is a total delight.
The young performer Arakelyan is of course Armenian and has quickly become one of the leading classical saxophonists, with appearances around the world.
Mack Avenue Records released a stunning live album!