Music For Saxophone And Orchestra /Kerkezos, Brabbins, Et Al

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Theodore Kerkezos, as his name suggests, is of Greek birth and background. He also happens to be a stupendously accomplished virtuoso on his chosen instrument. This is some of the best sax-playing I have heard. I also wish to commend Mr. Kerkezos for choosing a program made up entirely of works originally written for saxophone. A number of instrumental recital entries to come my way lately have been heavily skewed towards transcriptions of works written for media other than those presented on the CD. Kerkezos sticks to works on this release that are mostly well known. Elsewhere, I review another Kerkezos disc containing rather less familiar material.

Glazunov’s E flat Concerto is probably the most often heard work here, at least in its original scoring. A number of fine recordings of it are available, including a German import DG with saxophonist Eugene Rousseau, which includes the Villa-Lobos and Ibert pieces Kerkezos has chosen. Also available is a budget priced EMI CD with saxophonist John Harle and Neville Marriner conducting the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields; it, too, includes the Ibert and the Villa-Lobos, as well as the Debussy. Each of these entries also includes one or more works not included on the other, so choosing one or another of them may come down to not just the merits of the performances (they are all excellent), but the other works offered.

As I’ve already indicated, Kerkezos’s playing leaves nothing to be desired; it is superb on all counts. His playing of the Glazunov concerto is so sensitively shaped and expressively shaded that one can be forgiven for momentarily being lulled into wondering if maybe Glazunov really was a great composer after all. But two other items of interest also make a strong case for this new release. Darius Milhaud’s wonderful Latin American-inspired Scaramouche suite was originally scored for saxophone and orchestra, but was later arranged by the composer himself for two pianos. While recordings of the original version are not rare, the piece is more often heard in its two-piano version, thus making Kerkezos’s new performance all the more welcome.

Yet perhaps most interesting of all is the world premiere recording of a concerto for saxophone and orchestra, titled Song of Dionysus, written in 2002 for Kerkezos by Ekaterini Karamessini (b. 1967). She holds multiple post-graduate degrees from the University of Sussex, as well as a bachelor’s degree from Berklee College of Music in the US. She was a prize-winner at the Chanctonbury Composition Competition for the Millennium in England, and many of her works—including chamber, symphonic, choral, ballet, and opera—have been performed in the US and the UK. Her Saxophone Concerto played here is a real beauty. The measure of its appeal is that it makes me want to hear more music by this very talented composer.

This is a fine release all around. Martyn Brabbins and the Philharmonia are in top form, Theodor Kerkezos is as good as sax-playing gets, and at Naxos’s budget price, how can anyone afford to pass this up?

Jerry Dubins, FANFARE

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: 8557063

  • UPC: 747313206322

  • Label: Naxos

  • Composer: Alexander Glazunov, Claude Debussy, Darius Milhaud, Ekaterini Karamessini, Heitor Villa-Lobos, Jacques Ibert

  • Conductor: Martyn Brabbins

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Philharmonia Orchestra

  • Performer: Theodore Kerkezos