Corelli, arr. Torben Snekkestad
Concerto Grosso in G minor, Op.6/8 (Fatto per la Notte di Natale – Christmas Concerto)
Pergolesi, arr. Charlotte Andersson
Alessandro Scarlatti, arr. Snekkestad
Two Concertos Grosso [Detailed as “No.1” and “No.2” and transposed from original keys]
Pergolesi, arr. Andersson
Copenhagen Saxophone Quartet [Torben Snekkestad (soprano saxophone), Maret Petersen (alto saxophone), Jeanette Balland (tenor saxophone), Charlotte Andersson (baritone saxophone)] with Viggo Mangor (chamber organ) and – in the Pergolesi – Mathias Hedegaard (tenor)
Recorded March 2006 in Hendriksholm Kirke, Copenhagen
Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood
Reviewed: June 2007
CD No: CLASSICO RECORDS
Duration: 55 minutes
In an age where ‘historically informed performance’ assumes top importance in the recording of Baroque music there is something rather refreshing and even decadent about the idea of this music performed in the guise of a saxophone quartet.
Yet the arrangements on this disc are so sympathetic that you could be forgiven for thinking there is a quartet of recorders performing, accompanied by a chamber organ. For this, credit must go to the arrangers Torben Snekkestad and Charlotte Andersson, who by and large succeed in updating music of three centuries hence for their instruments.
A well programmed disc takes in three works of Italian origin, and uses these to prelude two substantial vocal works by Giovanni Pergolesi (texts included in the booklet).
This isn’t the first time that the Copenhagen Saxophone Quartet has applied its sonorities to Baroque music; interpretations of Domenico Scarlatti sonatas with Michala Petri were well received. As long as preconceptions are set aside on pressing the ‘play’ button, there is much to be gained from this disc. Expectations of a raucous sound, as I had, are quickly nullified.
Only occasionally are contrapuntal niceties hard to pick up or sonorities too lush. And even in the instances where the sound could be soupy, the restrained performing style of the musicians is such that these passages are either smoothed over or barely noticeable.
There are moments of great beauty in the familiar Corelli ‘Christmas’ Concerto, the quartet playing as one rather than attempting any showy figurations. The performance is faithful, note for note, enhanced by Viggo Mangor’s sensitive continuo role. While the second Adagio could be judged too slow, the gently lilting ‘Pastorale’ finds legato easy to obtain, with a beautifully rendered pianissimo at the end. That the piece is heard completely afresh is testament to the sensitivity of the players.
The same could be said of the Alessandro Scarlatti concerti grossi, though a lack of attack in the ‘Grave’ with which the first one opens means definition of melodic lines is more difficult to come by – a situation fully rectified by the fugal opening to the second concerto. In the slower sections the quartet often produces a sound akin to that of a baroque oboe quartet, and in the solemnity of the first concerto’s Largo this works well.
Matthias Hedegaard brings a style to the Pergolesi vocal works that seems ideally suited to the saxophone accompaniment, though the first ‘Recitative’ of “Orfeo” finds him too far back in the mix. In the first ‘Aria’ he secures a sensitive dialogue with Torben Snekkestad’s soprano saxophone, while the second ‘Recitative’ is well controlled if a touch understated. For the final ‘Aria’ Pergolesi’s music bursts into life in an invigorating presto.
The “Stabat Mater” receives a similarly effective performance, with Hedegaard’s vocal control once again a prominent feature. Tempos are particularly well-judged, and sensitive rallentandos secure effortless transitions between the sections. This time the balance is fine – and in an unusual combination Hedegaard manages to bring forward a deeply felt interpretation.
This is an unexpected treat, a release that demonstrates once again the remarkable versatility of Baroque music. Sensitively arranged and performed, it provides viewpoints of the music that can only be described as valid.