Nobuya Sugawa Plays Yoshimatsu, Honda, Ibert, Larsson / Sado, Bbc Po, Et Al

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I’ve noticed quite a few new saxophone discs filtering into the classical market place recently which, given the previous dearth of decent repertoire for this instrument in the past, has got to be a cause for celebration. The Japanese virtuoso Nobuya Sugawa has been responsible for a lot of it, and his seemingly unquenchable thirst for exploration of his chosen instrumental family continues unabated.

The present release is very nicely programmed, starting with two premiere recordings of works written for him by fellow countrymen, and concluding with two repertoire pieces with strong links.

The two familiar works were written within a year of each other and both come from that heady 1930s period of Stravinskian neo-classicism. Both were commissioned by Sigurd Rascher and both featured in the repertory of the influential French teacher and pioneer Marcel Mule. There are textural and rhythmic similarities but both have their own stamp of individuality. The Ibert is actually for soprano sax and 11 instruments, giving it a transparent, occasionally jazz-like feel. It’s a short, engagingly colourful work typical of its composer, and it’s no surprise that it crops up many times in competitions and student practical exams. The dreamy central larghetto is memorable, especially given Sugawa’s honeyed tone and supple phrasing.

The Larsson Concerto has a bit more backbone and sinew, though still only accompanied by string orchestra. The spirit of France hovers again here, with a Poulenc-like first subject and a motoric allegro scherzando finale that is thrillingly played by all here. It’s a slightly more serious work, but still full of life, vigour and contrast.

The two other concertos maybe of more interest to the curious and both explore the familiar traits of the instrument as well as taking it to further boundaries. In the booklet note written by the respective composers, fellow-saxophonist Honda writes that he was ‘entrusted with the task of writing a concerto that would represent a tribute to jazz…’vent’ is the French word for wind, so please think of the Concerto du vent as a Concerto of the wind’. It does have a pleasingly ‘open air’ quality to the melodic line, with Sugawa given plenty of opportunity to play ‘around’ the phrase – not strictly improvising but using portamento and blue note phrases to embellish the chords in a jazzy fashion. It works quite well, linking nicely with the older pieces, and is again given stunning advocacy, but I’m not quite sure Honda knows what sort of piece this is, so maybe we don’t. It’s certainly undemanding listening and doesn’t particularly outstay its welcome.

Sugawa has collaborated with Yoshimatsu before on the 1994 Cyber Bird Concerto, and Chandos continue their championing of this composer with this latest premiere. Using once again soprano sax, this strikes me as an eclectic work, having a moody, post-Takemitsu Impressionistic first movement - which clearly suits this instrument’s timbral character - some wilder, Berio-like improvisatory shrieks around 3:45 and 7:50 into track 2 before going off into some fairly predictable blues/ jazz doodlings around 6:05 –a homage to Brubeck’s ‘Take Five’? – before dissolving into Garbarek territory towards the end. Again, it cleverly explores the instrument’s unique and versatile sonorities without being especially memorable or groundbreaking; in fact, at times we seem to be in a world of background mood music, but it is superbly performed and recorded.

Altogether, an interesting survey that will be welcomed by those with a liking for this sort of repertoire.

-- Tony Haywood, MusicWeb International

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: CHAN 10466

  • UPC: 095115146620

  • Label: Chandos

  • Composer: Jacques Ibert, Lars-Erik Larsson, Takashi Yoshimatsu, Toshiyuki Honda

  • Conductor: Yutaka Sado

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: BBC Philharmonic Orchestra

  • Performer: Nobuya Sugawa, Yuri Torchinsky