Tetraphonics

The Invitation: Saxophonquartette des 20. jahrhunderts

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Tetraphonics is a saxophone quartet based out of Cologne, and Cybele's The Invitation: Saxophone Quartets of the Twentieth Century appears to be its debut recording. The subtitle doesn't make a lot of sense, as only two of the five works included date from the twentieth century: Zdenek Lukas' Rondo for Four Saxophones (1970) and Philip Glass' Concerto for Saxophone Quartet (1995), heard in the version for four saxophones as opposed to that scored for saxophone quartet and orchestra. Conversely, both works by Frank Reinshagen and Barbara Thompson date from 2002 and Johann Sebastian Bach's A minor Fugue from the WTC dates, as far as anyone can tell, from about 1722. This last named work is included as a "bonus track," so in a sense it doesn't count, but we are left to guess how the remainder represents the twentieth century except in part.

Tetraphonics is a well-disciplined and smoothly voiced saxophone quartet, with a great sense of ensemble dynamics and seamless rhythmic security. It adds a good deal of luster to the Glass Concerto; the first movement is played so smoothly that it almost sounds like a string ensemble. However, with the exception of the final movement, the concerto is played a little faster than in the recording of the Raschèr Saxophone Quartet on Glass' own label Orange Mountain Music, the result being that Tetraphonics sounds a bit more deliberate and less relaxed in comparison. Zdenek Lukas' Rondo does not adhere to a perceptibly rondo-like form and sounds a little like "Webern-lite"; it has not aged well. Barbara Thompson is a well-known British jazz saxophonist who took up classical composition as a way to keep herself musically active during a bout with Parkinson's disease; she has since returned to performing. Her Saxophone Quartet No. 2 is both ambitious and impressive, though it is a very mixed bag -- at times you think you are hearing some Third Stream piece from the 1950s, and at others you are marveling at the effects she can achieve through her writing for saxes -- "how does she get that?" one wonders. The real gem among all of this is the title work, The Invitation by fellow Kölner Frank Reinshagen, who leads a big band in Cologne. Reinshagen's piece opens with a section that draws from minimalistic techniques, but branches out into other areas and maintains a logical forward motion -- it's very musical, well scored for the saxes, and at just five minutes, almost too short.

Cybele's The Invitation: Saxophone Quartets of the twentieth century will be a safe bet for the patient bunch who are already predisposed to the saxophone quartet. Listeners with more general tastes may well not need this one, although the Glass is nicely played and the Reinshagen is highly enjoyable; yet others may take a shine to the Thompson as well. The SACD sound is good without being spectacular.

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