Swedish Concertos for Saxophone

From Sweden, concertante saxophone works and the last shout for Phono Suecia

Author: 
Guy Rickards

ELIASSON Symphony No 3 for Alto Saxophone and Orchestra

  • Schneller Blick... ein kurzes Aufscheinen, Ein
  • Poem for Alto Saxophone and Piano
  • Symphony No 3 for Alto Saxophone and Orchestra
  • Concerto for Soprano Saxophone No 1. Golden Harmony
  • 4 Pieces for Soprano Saxophone and Symphonic Band
  • Concerto for Soprano Saxophone and String Orchestra

When John-Edward Kelly first heard the name of Anders Eliasson – via another composer featured here, Sven-David Sandström – it was as ‘the best composer in Sweden’. Virtuoso alto saxophonist and best composer struck up an enduring relationship which has seen the creation of the Poem (1988), Concerto (2002, heard here in its 2008 recasting for the soprano instrument) and concertante Third Symphony (1989) for Kelly, who has latterly turned to conducting and here directs a thrilling account of Eliasson’s string-orchestral triptych A Brief Glance…a Fleeting Vision (2003). Levon Chilingirian set down a fine version for Caprice but Kelly’s is altogether tauter and more intense; Caprice’s SACD sound is finer and the couplings equally compelling.

Kelly’s technical prowess on the saxophone is legendary and his commissions and list of premieres are legion, so when he states that he has performed no composer’s music more frequently, nor been touched by any more deeply, one knows that the works must be exceptional. And so they are: Neos’s disc focuses entirely on Eliasson, centred around the Poem for alto saxophone and piano, a strongly lyrical and dramatic work derived from an earlier (1986) song setting of Tranströmer’s ‘Längs radien’ (‘Along the radius’). Kelly premiered the work and Neos here reissue a Col Legno recording from 1991 showing him at the height of his powers. Jörgen Pettersson’s rival version on Phono Suecia is substantially slower, exploring the music’s lyrical impulse more expansively, whereas Kelly’s has the sheer dash of an interpretation long lived-with. Kelly’s tone is warmer and richer, and while Pettersson is marginally better recorded, this does the latter no especial favours.

Eliasson’s Third Symphony (of four) is again a vivid combination of the dramatic and the lyrical, cast in five interlinked movements, although the concluding ‘Nebbie’ is rather a coda. The dynamic opening ‘Cerca’ and central ‘Fremiti’ (‘Shivers’ or ‘Shudders’) contrast with the quieter yet no less intense ‘Solitudine’ and ‘Lugubre’ – this last-named the dark heart of this exceptionally fine score. A true symphony, with central solo part, this recording is its premiere issue, although dates from 1992.

The recording of Eliasson’s single-span Concerto dates from last July. By contrast with the Symphony, the Concerto is more straightforwardly a virtuoso piece, although expressively no pushover. It describes a compelling journey from darkness into light, a light in which Rolf Martinsson’s First Soprano Saxophone Concerto Golden Harmony (2012) begins. This is a beguilingly lyrical work, in three movements playing continuously: TranquilloDolcissimoEnergico. Martinsson, like soloist Anders Paulsson, has a foot in jazz as well as classical music, which may account for its tonal orientation and directness of approach; but the quality of its melodies comes from no school or medium. In between the concertos lies Sandström’s Four Pieces (2003), pithy miniatures that amount to rather more than the sum of their parts. Paulsson proves as persuasive an exponent as Kelly for his instrument and he is accompanied superbly by the trio of Swedish orchestras. Alas, this is reportedly Phono Suecia’s final issue, ending five decades of splendid recording. They have ended on a real high.

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