It's thrilling to live in an era in which creative musicians have the freedom and courage to cross barriers that had previously been considered impermeable, a time when a wind quintet can play a transcription of a complete Mozart opera, and heavy metal can be arranged for a quartet of bass clarinets, with exhilaratingly fresh results. That kind of spirit of adventure has led the Alliage (Saxophone) Quartett, to record arrangements of Schumann's Piano Quintet and Mendelssohn's incidental music for A Midsummer Night's Dream in collaboration with pianist Jang Eun Bae. Adolphe Sax (who patented the saxophone in 1843, the same year both these pieces were premiered) dreamed of a time when his instrument would become integrated into the Romantic orchestra, but with a few isolated exceptions, classical composers steered clear of it. Part of the mission of Alliage is to imagine what some nineteenth century repertoire would sound like had composers taken the saxophone as seriously as Adolphe Sax hoped they would. The two pieces recorded here are entirely successful, but in different ways. The Schumann sounds astonishingly natural played by saxophones; it's entirely possible to imagine that it could have been conceived for this ensemble. The Mendelssohn is orchestral, so the results of the arrangement are more distinct from the original. Some things are lost, like the variety of tone colors, but the clarity of Mendelssohn's contrapuntal writing is often highlighted by the homogeneity of the ensemble, so as long as the listener isn't expecting a precise duplication of the original, this version has much to offer. The quartet plays with sensitivity, tone that's an ideal blend of mellowness and brightness, and sparkling virtuosity; anyone who thinks of the saxophone as squawky and shrill should listen to the skill and musicality of the Alliage Quartett's performances of this repertoire. MDG's sound is, as usual for the label, natural, well-balanced, and crystal clear.
AllMusic Review by Stephen Eddins
|Piano Quintet in E flat major, Op. 44|
|A Midsummer Night's Dream, incidental music, Op. 61|