‘The Columbia Sessions’ = Works of POULENC, VILLA-LOBOS, BOLCOM, Others – Christopher Creviston, saxes/ Hannah Gruber, p. – Albany

by | Mar 27, 2012 | Classical CD Reviews

‘The Columbia Sessions’ = FRANCIS POULENC (arr. C. Creviston): Sonata for Flute and Piano; CLAUDE DELVINCOURT: Croquembouches for Alto Saxophone and Piano; HEITOR VILLA-LOBOS: Fantasia for Soprano Saxophone and Orchestra (piano reduction); DOROTHY CHANG: Two Preludes; WILLIAM BOLCOM: Concert Suite in E-flat for Alto Saxophone & Band (piano reduction) – Christopher Creviston, alto and soprano sax/Hannah Gruber, p. – Albany Records TROY 1341, 57:33 ****:

Christopher Creviston is one of the world’s top saxophone artists with a performance resume that ranges from the Apollo Theatre in Harlem to Carnegie Hall. He is an incredibly versatile player with experience in both the worlds of classical repertory as well as many jazz and pop concerts. Hannah Gruber is on the teaching staff of Crane School of Music at SUNY Potsdam, along with Creviston, and has a similarly diverse and impressive resume. She too has done everything from classical piano concertos to international saxophone festivals. In fact, the saxophone repertory seems to be one of her specialties as she has worked with many of the most prominent saxophonists all over the world.
This disc showcases both of these amazing artists quite well and is, quite simply, one of the most impressive solo saxophone recital recordings I have ever heard. “The Columbia Sessions” is a reference to the venue for which this program was assembled by Creviston and Gruber. Albany also has their first solo “tour” album, the “Snell Sessions.”  The program here is not just exceptionally well played; it is very interesting and great fun to listen to.
I have always loved the Poulenc Flute Sonata with its idiomatic lilting phrases and vacillations between the melancholic and the buoyant and long lines built of quick, wispy passages. The best thing I can say is how impressive Creviston’s soprano saxophone playing is!  It is practically flute-like in its tone and balance. The soprano saxophone is an instrument that can sound shrill and cutting in the altissimo register but the playing here is warm, beautiful and so well adjusted to this music; it almost seems like it was intended for soprano saxophone, not flute. Another prime example is the Fantasia by Villa-Lobos. A lot of Villa-Lobos has a perky, syncopated and quasi-Latin feel to it. The soprano sax Fantasia is actually one his better known solo works and the saxophone and piano version gets performed more often than the original orchestration. Here too, this piece is crafted to show off the very unusual timbre of the instrument, but treacherous moments abound. Christopher Creviston has a very pure balanced sound even “way up there” and a facile technique that shows this work for the masterwork that it is.
Claude Delvincourt is a new name for me. He was a pianist and composer at the Paris Conservatory who appointed the great French saxophone master Marcel Mule as professor of saxophone during Delvincourt’s tenure. The Croquembouches (“crunch in the mouth”; a reference to a cone shaped French pastry) is a quirky, charming work written in six short movements. Each movement is titled after a different form of dessert or delicacy, such as “Linzer tart” or “Negre en chemise”. The music is charming and seems quite “French” with touches of Milhaud and Ravel. There are jazz-inflected sections and airy exotic sounds evocative of the world cultures that created the tasty morsels by which the movements are named. This is a nice work and stands out from all else on the program for its uniqueness and somewhat rarity.
Dorothy Chang wrote her Two Preludes for Creviston as part of a planned larger work which was never completed. The first prelude, Adagio e espressivo, is quite plaintive and relaxed while the second, Prestissimo, is an aggressive and energy filled work with some actively syncopated passages and propulsive “nervousness” that carries it forth, giving both players a lot of opportunity to excel. Maybe because of its brevity I did not find this work as compelling as the others in this collection.
This terrific disc concludes with the Concert Suite by William Bolcom, one of my favorite composers and former student of Milhaud. As Bolcom acknowledges, there are plenty of upper register notes in this piece to take advantage of the skills of the well known sax virtuoso Donald Sinta, for whom it was written. Creviston’s performance and this piece, itself, are plenty impressive for that fact, indeed. However, like much of Bolcom’s music, there is a crossover feel to the work, relying on jazz motives and some pop culture. As the composer explains, the final movement, “Introduction and Jump”, is intended to “evoke the detective dramas of early television.”  This is a very nice work, well worth seeking out in the original concert band version as well.
This really is one of the most fun and most impressive solo classical saxophone discs I have encountered. Saxophone really is one of those instruments that many, many people play well and a select few are truly impressive – like Christopher Creviston.
—Daniel Coombs

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