G PROKOFIEV Saxophone Concerto; Bass Drum Concerto
It seems impossible to discuss Gabriel Prokofiev’s music without some reference being made to his famous grandfather, Sergey Prokofiev. Yet during the past 15 years Prokofiev ‘junior’ has evolved his own distinctive, individual voice, integrating elements of contemporary classical music with electronic dance, hip hop and remixing.
The two musical cultures merge, mingle and collide in the two concertos featured here. The first on the disc, a four movement Saxophone Concerto written in 2016 for jazz luminary Branford Marsalis, presents a voyage of self-discovery wherein the soloist takes on the role of outsider journeyman. It’s an idea that resonates deeply within the history of jazz, of course, of which Marsalis will no doubt be keenly aware, being very much part of a tradition that goes back to groundbreaking saxophonists such as Charlie Parker, John Coltrane and Wayne Shorter.
Perhaps because of its yearning, quest like narrative, Prokofiev’s concerto struggles to find direction and forward momentum during the opening two movements, with Marsalis’s normally flamboyant saxophone sounding uncharacteristically muted. Nevertheless, the shackles come off in a rhythmically assertive and agitated final movement (entitled Allegro mechanico), where soloist and orchestra lock horns in a melodic tussle that drives the music towards a powerful and dramatic ending.
If the Saxophone Concerto is something of a curate’s egg, the Bass Drum Concerto, premiered in 2012, is for me one of the best concertos written this century. The bass drum’s diverse and versatile sonic capabilities – ranging from default deep tremolando rumbling heard in the opening movement to haunting whale-like cries at the end of the second – is imaginatively explored. However, this is no box-of-tricks concerto. The bass drum’s physical dimensions, timbre and resonance – in addition to its associations with electronic dance music – provide the orchestra with plenty of ‘raw’ material for development. The overall impression is of a tautly constructed and highly integrated work.
While one could imagine any number of players taking up the Saxophone Concerto, Joby Burgess has made the Bass Drum Concerto his own, and the Ural Philharmonic under Alexei Bogorad clearly respond to the percussionist’s virtuoso treatment of an instrument that has resided in the lower reaches of the orchestral hierarchy for far too long.