PHILIP GLASS: String Quartets Nos. 2 “Company”, 3 “Mishima”, 4 “Buczak” & 5 (Arr. for guitar quartet) – The Dublin Guitar Quartet – Orange Mt. Music 0092, 72:54 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] (5/13/14) *****:
“Sax Allemande – MENDELSSOHN & Friends” – 22 Songs Without Words (Arr. for sax trio & violin/cello/horn trio) – Farao Classics B 108082, 48:58 [Distr. by Naxos] (5/27/14) *****:
Actually my favorites are keyboard quartets, trios (or quintets, keeping in mind the Browns), but saxes and guitars are would be my next choice. Both Philip Glass’s string quartets and Mendelssohn’s Songs Without Words bored me in their original form but as these two aggregations perform them, I’m entranced.
The Dublin Guitar arrangements were all done by their lead guitarist Brian Bolger, with the assistance of the other three. They also credit David Flynn for his work on the first version of the transcriptions. The Quartet No. 3 is subtitled after Glass’ music for the fascinating film Mishima, but there being no notes with the album I don’t know the derivation of the other two subtitles. The one for No. 2 seems to be tied in somehow with the Sondheim musical Company, but that seems odd. The 1985 Mishima quartet has a breakdown listed of the six movements: 1957 Award Montage, Nov. 25 Ichigaya, Grandmother & Kimitake, Body Building, Blood Oath, Mishima Closing. This quartet is especially emotional, in ways even the film score lacked.
The four guitars seem to have a more varied individual voice than the four strings of the original quartets and the works just seem to come alive in ways they did not before. But I should reveal that except for the three French quartets (Debussy/Ravel/Faure) I’m really not a string quartet fan.
The title of the second CD is actually wrong and confusing. It should be “Sax Allemande & friends,” not “Mendelssohn & friends.” The note booklet is entirely in German so again I have few notes to go by on this one. In fact, it is fairly thick because it includes a mystery novelette by Andrea Maria Schenkel. (I understand the story was cooked up by the writer inspired by a sample from this recording, and uses words redolent of the time of Mendelssohn to evoke the typical bourgeois society of the period.) The friends consist of Kirill Troussov on violin, Wen-Senn Yang on cello and Eric Terwilliger on French horn. The recording venue, by the way, was an old sawmill in Bavaria!
I never could somehow get into the short lyrical piano pieces making up the eight volumes of Mendelssohn’s Songs Without Words. Perhaps partly because he wrote the pieces to be within the grasp of beginning pianists since at that time the piano was beginning to be a standard thing in most middle-class households. Some of the pieces are really simple, while others are a bit more complex. They were a bit hit with the enthusiastic and sometimes tormented souls of the ladies of the time. He wrote one for cello and piano in 1845 which is not related to any of the piano pieces, and a famous cellist called it one of the finest pieces he had ever composed. Other arrangements of the Songs Without Words have been done over the years, for a solo instrument accompanied by piano, for chamber ensemble, and for orchestra. A German violist arranged 22 of them for violin and piano, and it is possible those are the same 22 in this collection. The arrangements were done by the sax trio themselves along with Margarita Oganesjan. If they had used the first four volumes, it would be a total of 24 not 22, so they aren’t done in consecutive order. The note booklet does list them all, and they clearly jump around, coming from both early and late opuses.
The arrangements again give the works more life and feeling, and they sound as though they were originally written for this combination of instruments—though of course that would be impossible since the saxophone had not yet been invented when Mendelssohn composer them. The disc is a wonderful argument for more attention to be paid to the classical saxophone.