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Martyrs for the Faith
Paul CRESTON
(1906-1985)
Concerto for Alto Saxophone and Band Op.26 (1941; arr. for band by Russell Howland, 1948) [20:08]
David DeBoor CANFIELD (b. 1950)
Martyrs for the Faith, Concerto for Also Saxophone and Symphonic Winds (2003) [21:36]
John CHEETHAM (b.1939)
Concerto Agrariana for Also Saxophone and Band (2003) [16:00]
Ingolf DAHL (1912-1970)
Concerto for Alto Saxophone and Wind Orchestra (1949/53/59) [20:28]
Kenneth Tse (alto saxophone)
University of Iowa Symphony Band/Richard Mark Heidel (Creston, Cheetham, Dahl)/Ray Cramer (Canfield)
rec. February 2010 (Creston), October 2010 (Cheetham), November 2010 (Dahl), October 2011 (Canfield), University of Iowa Memorial Union. DDD.
MSR CLASSICS MS1359 [78:15]

The renowned virtuoso of the saxophone Kenneth Tse presents on this album four American XX Century concertos for the alto saxophone and wind bands of different size. Two of these works were written for him. He is supported by the wind band of the University of Iowa, where he currently teaches. 

Paul Creston’s concerto is beautiful and memorable. It opens with dark insistence; flowing lyricism is mixed with agitated runs. The symphonic tension is deftly handled. The second movement is transparent and gentle: the clarinet sings its languid song over warm, soothing orchestral waves. The finale is quick and merry, yet leaves some opportunities for lyrical relaxation. There is an interesting march-like intervention mid-way. Overall, though the structure is very much classical, the music is inventive, and the entire concerto is very enjoyable. 

David DeBoor Canfield
portrays three Martyrs for the Faith in the three movements of his concerto. The first movement, Polycarp, tells us about a Christian martyr of the Second Century A.D. Consonant with the era, the music is dark and seems to grow out of the formless mists of time. Violent orchestral outbursts are mixed with the wailing of the saxophone. Heavy percussion underpins aggression. Gaspard de Coligny was a famous admiral, and a leader of the Huguenots at the time of the religious wars in France. He was promptly murdered on St. Bartholomew’s Night in Paris. This movement is a grotesque military march, which sounds quite innocent at the beginning, but gathers tension. The march is superimposed on a religious hymn. It struggles to retain calm and to continue a steady advance, keeps moving but ultimately fades away. The third part, Jim Elliot, commemorates the missionary who was killed in Ecuador in 1956. The music is a bouncy mambo-like Latin dance, dressed in flamboyant percussion. There are colorful moments and interesting “rainforest” sonorities. Another hymn is woven in but the steady musical progress if quite cheerful is a bit eventless. This concerto is interesting for a first listening or after a long break, but it loses much of its appeal on frequent repetitive listening. 

John Cheetham
’s Concerto Agrariana belongs to rural “Americana” and is dedicated to the “rugged determination and inherent resourcefulness of the pioneers who settled the rural Midwest during the early 19th century”. The first movement is jovial and sunny. It is a light walk with a song - peaceful yet active. The slow movement portrays a solemn and grandiose vista. It is horn-suffused music over a rich accompaniment, with plenty of dance in the middle. The third movement is a light, polka-like Scherzo. The vigorous finale sings of happy energetic labor. The ending is loud and optimistic. Overall, this concerto leaves a pleasant aftertaste. Even though it is less adventurous than the three others on this disc, it has a certain Mozartean amiability. Certainly it does not bore and stands up well to repetitive listening.
 
The concerto by Ingolf Dahl is the most serious and cerebral here. Recitative is massive, loaded with grave orchestral tuttis. The music is raw and unpolished, and progresses like a solemn procession. The character does not change much in the ensuing Passacaglia, although now things become quieter, more distant and misty. It surges to a deafening culmination, followed by a sad, philosophical solo for the sax. The finale is one of those musical pieces that seem to be a great effort to write and an even greater effort to perform yet you are left being far from sure that all this effort was worthwhile. It is busy, loud, restless and full of vigorous clutter. Overall, the concerto has a distinct style, but seemed more of a stamina tester than a pleaser. The year and place of its creation (West Coast, 1949) are pretty much written all over it. If you enjoy the kind of “mechanical avant-garde” that surrounded Schoenberg and Stravinsky then, this could be a treat for you, for the rest it could be a trial.
 
The performances of all four concertos are devoted, well-measured and well-prepared - ideal. The rhythms are alive, and the conducting is idiomatic. The orchestra is nimble and supportive. The soloist shows himself to be a true virtuoso, dispatching the breakneck passages with ease. He can also be sensitive when needed. The recording quality is very good, clear and spacious; the orchestra has the requisite weight yet never eclipses the soloist. The booklet (in English only) provides information about the performers, the four composers, and a short but good effective analysis of the works.
 
Oleg Ledeniov

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