The flute and saxophone may be close relatives in the woodwind family, but in classical music the similarities end there.
While the flute has been championed by the likes of James Galway and Jean-Pierre Rampal, the classical sax has no such megastar advocate. Still, two new recordings -- by flutist Robert Langevin and saxophonist Theodore Kerkezos -- show how both instruments were favored among French composers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. We're spotlighting them in a two-for-one Album of the Week.
Theodore Kerkezos: Works for Saxophone & Orchestra
London Symphony Orchestra; Yuri Simonov, conductor
When Adolphe Sax invented the family of instruments that carry his name in 1841, he envisioned it as an orchestral or military band instrument. Yet classical composers kept the instrument on the fringe, save for a rare orchestral appearance in Prokofiev or Mussorgsky.
In the early 20th century, however, the sax did catch on for a time among composers at the Paris Conservatoire. Greek saxophonist Theodore Kerkezos gathers several examples on this recording. Chief among them is Debussy’s Rhapsodie, a colorful and exotic evocation of Parisian street life and Moorish Spain. Kerkezos applies a velvety tone and light vibrato to this vivid and charming work.
Henri Tomasi's Saxophone Concerto is the most aggressive work of the bunch, written by a composer who understood the assertive power of the sax and frequently lets it sail above huge string lines and high-pitched brass. Florent Schmitt’s Légende is all amorphous opulence while Maurice’s Tableaux de Provence (1948-1955) is a musical postcard of the South of France -- complete with the imitation of a buzzing hornet and a Farandole, the Provençal dance made famous in Bizet’s L’Arlésienne. Not every piece is a surefire winner -- Vincent d'Indy's Choral Varie is a lot of lugubrious orchestration – but overall, it’s an album full of surprises.
Robert Langevin: Sonates romantiques
Jonathan Feldman, piano
Robert Langevin has been the principal flutist of the New York Philharmonic since 2000, having previously held similar jobs with the Pittsburgh and Montreal Symphony Orchestras. Like Galway or Rampal before him, Langevin has a particular interest in the French flute tradition, exemplified here in sonatas by Fauré, Franck, and Pierné, which were all originally written for violin and later adapted for the flute.
In Langevin’s hands, each is ideally suited to the flute’s grace, brilliance and ravishing timbre. He applies a silvery tone and crisp articulation to the ecstatic passages of Fauré’s Violin Sonata in A major, Op.13. Similarly, Franck's Violin Sonata in A major, composed for the violin virtuoso Eugene Ysaye, is fiery and energetic, and contains some highly chromatic dialogues between Langevin and pianist Jonathan Feldman. The Op. 36 Sonata by Gabriel Pierné translates well on the flute; at one point a birdcall figure in the melody is underpinned by a bit of jazzy harmony in the piano. Each of the works is unique enough that the recital never grows monotonous.