Contrasting Moods and Colours for Saxophone and Piano

Sequenza IXb
Tableaux de Provence
Fantaisie sur un thème original
Sonata for alto saxophone and piano
Suite bergamasque – Clair de lune
Pièce en forme d’Habanera

Theodore Kerkezos (saxophone) &
Francesco Nicolosi (piano)

Reviewed by: Rob Witts

Reviewed: 4 January, 2006
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

The saxophone has been so completely characterised in the popular imagination as a jazz instrument that it comes as a shock to hear it played as Belgium-born Adolphe Sax (1814-94) intended, without its supplementary vocabulary of growls and squeals. Theodore Kerkezos is among the greatest of classical saxophone soloists and his recital with the excellent Francesco Nicolosi was a masterclass in the immensely varied palette of colours that the instrument can produce.

This was most astoundingly evident in Berio’s Sequenza IXb, an arrangement of his Sequenza IX for clarinet. Like all the Sequenzas, it is an investigation of the nature of the solo instrument, of its construction and its history. In the saxophone Berio finds contrasts: open-throated richness of tone giving way suddenly to barely audible murmurs, frantic scalar ascents juxtaposed with rapt stillness. In Kerkezos’s apparently effortless performance it was a teetering, skittish work, full of sudden jump-cuts and near misses; his pianissimo sound was spellbinding.

The other substantial work on the programme was Hindemith’s Sonata for alto saxophone and piano. Hindemith’s sonatas are as great a challenge for the pianist as the front-man, and this one showcased the beautiful clarity and precision of Nicolosi’s playing, particularly in the Lebhaft second movement. In the finale there was a wonderful passage in which the piano figuration grew ever more hysterical while Kerkezos played the melody completely deadpan. Nicolosi’s own solo moment in ‘Clair de lune’ was delightful, his artistry stripping the grime from the over-familiar music until it sparkled.

If the programme was otherwise high in calories and short on nutrition, well, it’s the time of year for such things. Paul Maurice’s suite was pleasant but unmemorable, but Milhaud’s Scaramouche provided a slinky finish, topped only by Pedro Iturralde’s Czárdás, the splendid, swaggering encore, and recorded by Kerkezos, in orchestrated form, on Naxos.

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