Flying Saxophone Circus / Turkovik, Selmer Saxharmonic

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This is a hybrid Super Audio CD playable on both regular and Super Audio CD players.


FLYING SAXOPHONE CIRCUS Milan Turkovi?, cond; Selmer Saxharmonic MDG 910 1625-6 (SACD: 59: 01)

SHOSTAKOVICH Suite for Variety Orchestra. DVO?ÁK Slavonic Dances, op. 46/1, 7, 8. MILHAUD Scaramouche. GERSHWIN American Stories Suite. MATITIA Devil’s Rag

If Flying Saxophone Circus , the title of this CD, conjures up images of a troupe of madcap comedians and “something completely different,” I think you have gotten the point. As the program notes, with their references to magical materializations in Red Square and abductions by jazz-loving space aliens make clear, here indeed is a unique experience. With this eclectic program of Shostakovich, Dvo?ák, Milhaud, Gershwin, and Jean Matitia, played by a saxophone dodectet (I’ve waited my whole life to use that term) called the Selmer Saxharmonic, this is about as different as things get here in the classical aisle.

The Shostakovich Suite for Variety Orchestra (post 1956)—usually misidentified, as it is here, as the lost-but-now-located 1938 Suite for Jazz Orchestra No. 2 —is the perfect opener for a disc of this title, as the style of these delicious waltzes, polkas, and gallops, taken from film and ballet scores, is strikingly similar to music played in Russian circuses. (That the composer could apparently write these crowd-pleasing tunes with the same skill and conviction as his darkly intense symphonies and string quartets is a mystery worthy of further exploration. It surely doesn’t sound like slumming to me.) The band’s multilayered saxophone sonority expands on the color offered by the four saxes in the original orchestration, with some excursions into pizzicato and other sounds usually alien to reed instruments. The performance of the insinuating Waltz No. 2, made familiar in Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut , is particularly convincing.

The other works are just as effectively done. The Saxharmonic’s Dvo?ák dances capture the Slavic flavor while adding the colorations of his wind serenade, the saxophones morphing credibly into flutes, oboes, clarinets, and bassoons. The Scaramouche may seem a bit heavy at first, but well before they get to the “Brasileira” one almost begins to believe it was written for this ensemble. Then the German musicians transform into a 1930s dance band—with an amazing sax line—for the suite of Gershwin show tunes arranged by French saxophonist Jean-Marie Londeix. They finish off with the fiendishly difficult Devil’s Rag for 12 saxophones by another French sax player and teacher, Christian Lauba, writing under the nom de plume Jean Matitia. Pure magic.

But I go on too long. So, here’s the endorsement: This is the group I’d want to book if I was having a cost-no-object party. The ensemble boasts 12 of the finest saxophonists in Germany, playing everything from sopranino to bass. The music is ingenious and accessible to a wide variety of tastes. The arrangements, most of them by tenor saxophonist Christoph Enzel, are technically sophisticated, true to the various styles, and great fun. Bassoonist/conductor Milan Turkovi? (he still plays in the Vienna Concentus Musicus) leads lively, idiomatic performances. These range from subtle to brazen as appropriate, with not a trace of the stiffness that often creeps in when wind ensembles tackle orchestral repertoire. The sound is magnificent and the notes are a hoot . Why wait? Drop your copy of Fanfare (temporarily of course) and get to your favorite retailer post haste. If you enjoy this repertoire, or the sound of saxophones, you will love this SACD.

FANFARE: Ronald E. Grames

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: 9101625-6

  • UPC: 760623162560

  • Label: MDG

  • Composer: Antonín Dvořák, Darius Milhaud, Dmitri Shostakovich, George Gershwin, Jean Matitia

  • Conductor: Milan Turkovic

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Selmer Saxharmonic