Victor Carr Jr.
, November 2006
In the Koppel family Denmark would seem to have the makings of its own musical dynasty à la the Bachs and Strausses. Both sons of distinguished composer Herman Koppel, Thomas and Anders, followed in their father's footsteps and became composers (his daughter Lone achieved success as a dramatic soprano). Anders had the most diverse musical background, including rock and jazz as well as classical music, and all of this comes to bear in these stimulating saxophone concertos.
Concerto No. 1 moves from a misty, impressionistic introduction into a spiky neoclassical movement (with solo part for soprano saxophone) reminiscent of Ravel's Menuet antique. The second movement offers a kind of sinister cinematic drama. In both of these the saxophone mostly offers commentary on the proceedings, however in the finale, with it's main theme seemingly taken from Bernstein's Prelude, Fugue and Riffs, the soloist becomes the main protagonist. About halfway through Koppel lets loose his jazz style in what sounds completely improvised in the manner of Dexter Gordon.
The solo writing in Concerto No. 2 is unabashedly jazz-like from the beginning, but Koppel brilliantly melds this with the "classical" orchestral accompaniment--if you consider a syncopated bass line to be in the classical realm! The center of this five-movement work is a reflective Largo that tantalizes with barely-recognizable fragments of jazz classics (is that a whiff of "Stardust" at the beginning?). After a saucy Latin-dance scherzo the finale moves squarely into "modern" music territory, with a kaleidoscope of glittering orchestral effects and abrupt transitions--and all the while Koppel maintains recognizable tonal centers.
The solo part here is a tour-de-force, which comes off brilliantly in Benjamin Koppel's virtuoso performance (Benjamin is Anders' son--that dynasty again!)--and virtuoso is a description that applies to the whole of both concertos, as well as to the powerful accompaniment provided by the Odense Symphony under conductor Nicolae Moldoveanu. After all this excitement comes the soothing and gentle Swan Song for Alto Saxophone, Harp, and Strings, bringing the program to a peaceful close.
This program demonstrates how, when a composer fully understands and exploits its potential, the saxophone can offer much more to classical music than just playing pretty tunes in Bizet's L'Arlesienne and Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition. Dacapo's clear, vibrant recording balances the soloist and orchestra perfectly, enhancing an already enjoyable listening experience.