Review by steviev December 6, 2009 (2 of 3 found this review helpful)
|Don't be put off by the unusual ensemble -- saxophonists and general listeners alike will enjoy this recital.
Bad news first: the Schumann arrangement comes across as a largely failed experiment here. The louder, less dynamically-controlled saxophones dominate in a way that strings do not, and they often bury the important piano part in loud or busy tutti passages. MDG takes pride in its "original dynamics" and "greatest possible naturalness", and I have no reason to doubt the fidelity of this recording. Still, I wish they had spotlit the piano a bit, to better approximate the balances in Schumann's original.
Another problem with the Schumann is the relatively soft, tepid attack of the saxes. It seems that string instruments are capable of much greater grit and vehemence without ruining their intonation. The Alliages strive for tonal beauty over incisive rhythm, and this drains a lot of excitement from the outer movements.
It's not all bad, though. The second movement comes off best, especially the ethereally swirling trio -- it's pure magic, and certainly the high point of this arrangement. And really, Schumann's music is so good that it can survive just about any halfway-competent transcription.
The Mendelssohn, on the other hand, is a near unqualified success. Only in the wedding march do the Alliages not quite convey the regal pomp of a full orchestra. We get all of Mendelssohn's music here: the overture plus the nine movements of opus 61. String and woodwind parts are handled by the saxes; brass and percussion are given largely to the piano. After listening to this disc many times, I tend to imagine saxophones instead of strings when I "play" the overture in my head -- that's how effective this arrangement is.
The Alliages play with smooth, manicured tone throughout, never once squeaking, squawking, or blatting. This works well for Mendelssohn, but I miss the strong accents afforded by string instruments in the Schumann.
Sound quality is superb in the Mendelssohn: airy and transparent, with precise imaging of each instrument. I think a lot of credit for this must go to the composer and/or arranger. In the Schumann, sound is also superb in less-dense passages, but becomes congested and miasmatic in tuttis. This might be a natural consequence of using saxes instead of strings, or it might be the fault of the (different) arranger. Either way, the Mendelssohn sounds better.
The booklet gives us no information about the arrangers, other than their names: Jacques Larocque (Schumann) and Hendrik Schnoke (Mendelssohn). I think MDG should have let us know more about them.
This is a very pleasant programme. I have listened to it many times, both as "background" music and with my full attention, and recommend it to anyone who likes these works in their original guise.
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