GLAZOUNOV; LEFANU; MEYER: Saxophone Concertos – John-Edward Kelly, alto sax – Netherlands Radio Ch. Philharmonic/John-Edward Kelly and Micha Hamel, cond. – Neos 10910 [Distr. by Naxos], 58:42 [5/15/12] ****:
Alexander Glazounov’s (1865-1936) career as a composer and teacher spanned the transition from Romantic era to experimental modernity. As Director of the St. Petersburg (later the Leningrad) Conservatory from 1895-1928, he taught Miaskovsky and Prokofiev, but his compositions never moved beyond the Romantic Russian tradition. Taught by one of the great orchestrators, Rimsky-Korsakov, his works were brilliantly scored, and, unlike many Russian composers, mostly optimistic, but lacked the melodic fecundity that would compensate for his monochromic emotional landscape.
Glazounov’s Saxophone Concerto eschews any link to jazz; it’s a purely romantic work. The alto saxophone, with its mellifluous, dusky tone and the lush string accompaniment creates the perfect environment for a ‘50s cocktail lounge setting. There is a bouncy, spirited second section that provides tempo contrast, but the lack of bite is a significant drawback. Saxophonist John-Edward Kelly negotiates the musical challenges with verve and aplomb.
Listening to Nicola LeFanu’s (b. 1947) Concerto for Alto Saxophone and String Orchestra (1989) after the Glazounov, is akin to experiencing a fresh autumn breeze at the end of a hot summer. LeFanu is the daughter of composer Elizabeth Maconchy, whose Symphony for Double String Orchestra, recorded on the Lyrita label, was an audiophile favorite in the 1990s. The quicksilver mood changes – frenetic, calm, eery, beautiful – make this an emotionally riveting work. The composer accurately describes her composition as “full of energy and color; essentially a lyrical piece concerned with fantasy and reflection.” Especially beautiful is the calm interlude of the middle section that expresses the nostalgic autumnal quality that the alto sax expresses so well. An ending solo cadenza exploits virtuosic possibilities that are flawlessly executed by John-Edward Kelly.
Krzysztof Meyer (b. 1943) is a relatively unknown member of the Polish avantgarde, who studied with Krzysztof Penderecki, Nadia Boulanger, and befriended Witold Lutoslawski and Dmitri Shostakovich. His Concerto for Alto Saxophone and String Orchestra (1993) starts with a brooding and serious quiet section, ‘Quieto,’ yet its dissonances are starkly beautiful. The second section, ‘Inquieto’ is a lighter, almost improvisational romp, exploiting the alto sax’s higher registers to create a brilliant tapestry that stimulates the musical intellect.
Soloist John-Edward Kelly commissioned both of the modern works and is an impeccable soloist. The Netherlands Radio Chamber Philharmonic is a superb accompanist and the sound is ideal. If you love the classical saxophone, this CD will provide much stimulation and pleasure.
Another ‘Pristine’ look at Eugene Ormandy’s career