It has always seemed to me that the saxophone has had a difficult time integrating into the mainstream of classical performance. Since its invention by Adolphe Sax in the mid 19th century this family of instruments has amassed a somewhat limited solo repertoire and has only really made it as an orchestral instrument in the twentieth century. The subsequent adoption of these instruments at the forefront of jazz and pop has forever changed the perception of this hybrid woodwind/reed/brass instrument which, for those who segregate musical genres, complicates matters even more.
It is the twentieth century that this album represents and it is the classical voice, not jazz or pop which speaks here. This intelligently chosen set of pieces is like a little tour of the saxophone and piano literature representing some of the best of the early to mid twentieth century repertoire. If that makes it a niche market then so be it, it is a lovely niche.
Now Robert Schumann (1810-1856), whose work opens this disc, is hardly a twentieth century composer but these transcriptions by Frederick Hemke (long time saxophonist of the Chicago Symphony and a highly respected teacher) are definitely contemporary and work well for saxophone and piano. Drei Romanzen Op. 94 (1849) are originally for oboe and piano.
Tracks 4 and 11 contain pieces by Astor Piazolla (1921-1992), the Argentinian composer best known for his work with the tango forms. Here we have two film music excerpts in apparent transcriptions.
There are four other sets of pieces on this recording by Ralph Vaughn Williams (1872-1958), Jean Francaix (1912-1987), Jacques Ibert (1890-1962) and Paule Maurice (1910-1967). The Vaughn Williams Folk Song Suite is originally for cello and piano and is vintage Vaughn Williams at his English folk song best. The Ibert and the Francaix are suites of the sort of nervous, jazz inflected music that characterized an era between the wars. Paule Maurice is a new name to this listener and the artists are to be commended for their part in saving her work from obscurity.
The Aeolian Song by Warren Benson (1924-2008) is probably one of the best known (and deservedly so) pieces on this disc. This is actually the slow movement of a concertino for saxophone and orchestra but has become a sort of recital classic in its incarnation for saxophone and piano.
The Harrington/Loewen Duo are based in Canada and that may be their only flaw. The curious but annoying lack of attention to the musicians who are our neighbors to the north is certainly mitigated to some degree by this release. It is a lovely recital and the musicians are both committed and creative. One hopes for another volume of recital pieces to follow this delightful release.