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.
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
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.