Mediterranean Moods – Theodore Kerkezos & Mei Yi Foo at Wigmore Hall

Legende for Saxophone and Piano
Sonata for Saxophone and Piano, Op.19
Clara Schumann
Romances, Op.11
Lamento et Rondo for Saxophone and Piano
Fantasie sur un thème originale for Alto Saxophone and Piano
Le tombeau de Couperin – Toccata
Scaramouche, Op.165c/3
Cretan Concertino

Theodore Kerkezos (saxophone) & Mei Yi Foo (piano)

Reviewed by: Robert Matthew-Walker

Reviewed: 18 January, 2009
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Not even the most enthusiastic saxophone lover could put their hand on their heart and claim that the repertoire in this programme contained any truly great music, and it was indicative of the relative paucity of the repertoire for this instrument that the finest music was for solo piano – the finale of Ravel’s Le tombeau de Couperin. This received from Mei Yi Foo an account that was positively thrilling, as it should be, and one’s only regret was that (perhaps for the understandable reason of giving the saxophonist a break in the second half of his demanding programme, as we had had in the first half, by way of the very rarely heard Three Romances by Clara Schumann, née Wieck) the pressure of time prevented Mei Yi from giving us the entire suite. One hopes that she will soon be appearing in a solo recital in London, for which event I hope I shall be able to attend.

The main reason for this programme, of course, were the seven works featuring the Greek-born saxophonist Theodore Kerkezos, who, on this showing, has to be counted one of the finest players of the instrument in the world. As a title, “Mediterranean Moods”, certainly stretched the geographical points of the music to the limit, but one soon realised what was meant by it, and the very rare chance of hearing such finely-written music in such excellent performances as these was a real treat. The most serious music for saxophone, at least in intent, came in the first four items. Florent Schmitt’s Legende is a fine work, dating from 1918, notable for an admirable consistency of style, individual, picturesque and evocative, in no way inferior to either of Debussy’s earlier Rhapsodies, the language of which it evokes. Paul Creston’s full-scale three-movement Sonata of 1939 is regarded by many saxophonists as the finest such work for this medium. Like all of this excellent composer’s music, it is extremely well-written and well imagined, and speaks directly to the attentive listener in a way that demonstrates Creston’s natural gifts. It received an extremely fine performance from Kerkezos, with Mei Yi Foo proving herself a splendid partner in a piano part technically no less demanding than that for the saxophone. Pierre Sancan’s piece dates from 1973 and made a similarly strong and direct impression.

The Mediterranean aspect was somewhat clearer in the second half. Jules Demersseman (1833-1866) was an early exponent of the instrument, and his work, effectively a theme and variations, inhabits the virtuoso school of the instrumentalist-composer of the latter part of the first half of the nineteenth-century. This was also quite brilliantly played, as was Milhaud’s Scaramouche (Kerkezos has made an excellent recording of this work in the version for saxophone and orchestra for Naxos). The little concerto by Theodorakis was enormously effective, full of colour and simple folk-based tunes, cleverly laid out, and the recital’s concluding item, a genuine Hungarian-influenced Czardas, ended the evening in dazzling style. Here were outstanding performances by two very gifted artists whom one hopes to hear again in London very soon.

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