Absolution Saxophone Quartet at Heywood Civic Centre

Date published: 22 October 2012

To the average classical music concert goer the word 'Quartet' is likely to be understood as 'String Quartet', since volumes of music for such an ensemble has been being written for generations by the most illustrious composers and featured in many a drawing room get-together as well as concert hall presentation.

Quartets of wind instruments have never been quite so popular indoors or on stage.

Saxophone Quartets have until recently been a rarity except, in some jazz circles. The hybrid instrument, invented in mid-19th century France by Adolphe Saxe, and taken up only fitfully by so-called 'serious' composers, has not proved to be as acceptable as its older companion, the clarinet, in providing a stimulating sound world for 'traditional' composers to engage with.

Which is something to be wondered at these days, when musicians like those who make up the Absolution Saxophone Quartet are able to make their sonorous instrument sing, snarl or swing with consummate ease.

Who needs a string quartet when a saxophone one can do just as well?

Music for string quartet will still be best delivered by strings, of course. But there now exists a significant volume of music written specifically for members of the saxophone family to play for the delight even of ears brought up in the refined atmosphere of artistically certificated chamber music.

Examples of this in the Absolution Quartet's programme ranged from the classically moulded 3-movement Quatuor of Alfred Desenclos (1912-71), which alerted the audience to what was to be a rich feast of melody and harmony for the next couple of hours, to the Quartet by Gordon Jacob (1895-1984) with its inevitable Jacobean wit and wonder at the flexibility of the saxophone in the hands of assured exponents.

Shorter pieces by Ian Wilson (b. 1964) and Will Gregory (b. 1959) - to whom the players owe much of their accomplishment by his teaching at the Royal Northern College of Music - and a couple of arrangements of tango music by Astor Piazzolla (1921-92) all added to the rich artistic experience of the audience on this colourful occasion. With titles like High Life (Gregory) and So Softly (Wilson), their characterful music was rightly warmly appreciated by the discerning audience. As were also the extracts from Philip Glass' (b.1937) superficially innocuous Quartet thankfully - for this reviewer - tucked away between music of much less studied vacuity.

The music of Barbara Thompson (b. 1944), herself an internationally celebrated concert saxophonist, takes its place alongside many a better known British composer of recent generations. The extracts from her 3rd Saxophone Quartet, which ended the first half of the concert on a spectacular note, demonstrated her power communicate deep musical thinking in this medium. The Grave et Presto of Jean Rivier (1896-1987) with which the concert came to an almost explosive conclusion, illustrated that the saxophone's seemingly infinite range of expressive powers has continued to be exploited heroically in its native land.

The Rochdale Music Society provides the people of the Borough and beyond opportunities to hear a wide range of music of the highest quality performed by musicians of outstanding talent.

Next up in its concert series will be performances of Mozart, Beethoven and Mendelssohn by the Benyounes String Quartet on Saturday, December 1 at 7.30pm in the welcoming and comfortable surroundings of Heywood Civic Centre.


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