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Lost Saxophone Concertos
John Beach CRAGUN (1885–1927)
Saxophone Concerto in E Flat Major (1925) [16:15]
Yrjö GUNAROPULOS (1904–1968)
Saxophone Concerto in C Minor (1935) [20:58]
Eilert LINDORFF-LARSEN (1902–1983)
Saxophone Concerto (1954) [8:46]
Leopold van der PALS (1884–1966)
Viola Concertino in D Flat Major, Op. 108 (version for saxophone and string orchestra) (1938) [9:12]
Phyllis TATE (1911–1987)
Saxophone Concerto in B flat major [23:04]
Olli-Pekka Tuomisalo (saxophone) and his Orchestra
rec. 2016/17, Lauttasaari Church, Helsinki
NAXOS 8.579038 [79:04]

I have always had a soft spot for the saxophone. I can trace this back to Rachmaninov's Symphonic Dances, RVW's Ninth Symphony, Nyman's Where the Bee Dances and Glazunov's Concerto. I am very grateful to MusicWeb International for allowing me to indulge this predilection, not to mention enabling me to hear the now much better known and brilliant Jess Gillam. I have heard Gillam playing the Glazunov and Nyman live in concert; the latter at Theatr Clwyd and the former in Worthing with John Gibbons.

Here, in five somewhat old-fashioned saxophone concertos, the engineers place the saxophone in a commanding position in the sound picture but not so much as to obscure the orchestral line. The performances seem spot-on and radiate élan and slow-oozing romance. That said, the orchestra is not the most affluent-sounding of ensembles. Still, there is very much enjoyment to be had from these recordings of unknown or little-known works

John Beach Cragun was an American composer and teacher. Tuomisalo found the concerto's material in January 2016 after a decade of intensive searching. It's a three- movement work: very romantic and curvaceous. The middle movement has Tuomisalo crooning out a melancholy line while the finale has some of the air of a novelty vaudeville song. Written in 1925, we are assured that this Concerto is the first American concerto for saxophone and orchestra (Caryl Florio wrote his Introduction and Variations in 1879 and Charles Martin Loeffler his Divertissement espagnol in 1900 but these are not concertos). Jascha Gurewich wrote a concerto in 1923 but laid it out for saxophone and piano. It seems, according to the notes, that it was never performed in its orchestral form.

The Finnish composer Gunaropulos's concerto is also three movements. A native of St Petersburg, his family moved with him to Finland on the bow-wave of the Russian Revolution. There he studied with Erkki Melartin and Oskar Merikanto. This concerto was written for Matti Rajula and in its early years had performances aplenty. Its central movement has a predictably slow and pensive Romanza to contrast with the raw and tragic fanfares that open the work. The sax can soon be heard sprinting along in jollity, rather like the Glazunov. It succeeds despite its conventional flourish of an ending. Tuomisalu found the score in 2016.

The Concerto by Dane Eilert Lindorff-Larsen dates from the early 1950s. It is a small single-movement work apparently heard every now and then in competitions. Its easily accessible sax line and prominent part for piano is dosed with Rachmaninovian sentiment but this makes way for an ending on a pleasing note.

Like Erland von Koch, Van Der Pals wrote his Sax Concertino for the great Sigurd Raschèr. Dating from 1938, it is a smooth and smoochy addition to the repertoire. There's a plaintive central Adagio forming a still and very thoughtful centre for the work. This contrasts with the joyous pin-sharp dance that rounds things out in the form of a hop-skip-jump Allegro finale.

British composer Phyllis Tate (1911–1987) wrote her four-movement Michael Krein-dedicated Saxophone Concerto at the request of the BBC in 1944. Tate, not often performed, was born in Buckinghamshire and studied at the Royal Academy of Music She had a Cello Concerto played in London in 1933 and broadcast the following year. Harold Rutland has written of the concerto's "mercurial qualities [and] gay turns of thought and brilliant passage-work, but the music also has much quiet beauty. … Spiv-like is a description that has been applied to the saxophone; but Phyllis Tate, in her Concerto, has endeavoured to bring out other characteristics as well. … The workmanship, too, reveals considerable ingenuity." Its performance history includes a premiere by Krein and Barbirolli in Manchester on 29 December 1948. Krein tackled it again on radio on 22 June 1952. On 10 April 1950 in a radio concert directed by Charles Groves one Douglas Swallow was the soloist. Jack Brymer, always partial to a change from clarinet to alto saxophone, took up Tate's concerto on 30 September 1977. On 14 July 1982 John Harle ensured the concerto was not forgotten. Apart from that it has been played several times at Hallé concerts, both at Manchester and Cheltenham.

With Tuomisalu the first movement of the Tate swaps the uncertain footing of the Air for a gambolling Hornpipe. This movement puts me in mind of the Nielsen Clarinet Concerto. The lovely stumbling Canzonetta conjures up sentimental images of lilacs, ferns and potted palms. The smiling Scherzo has a skip and a spring in its step. The finale is an Alla marcia-Tarantella which at first brims with tension. It releases this in the chattering Tarantella which once or twice reminds us of a work written five years later, the Finzi Clarinet Concerto. Tate's concerto is very much in her lighter vein alongside the London Fields Suite (review review). Certainly it makes for a major gear-change by comparison with her opera The Lodger.

The fact-stocked notes are by the saxophonist

Rob Barnett

 




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