About this Recording
8.573549 - Saxophone Quartets (French) - DUBOIS, P.M. / PIERNÉ, G. / FRANÇAIX, J. / DESENCLOS, A. / BOZZA, E. / SCHMITT, F. (Kenari Quartet)
English  French 

French Saxophone Quartets
Dubois • Pierné • Francaix • Desenclos • Bozza • Schmitt


Invented in Paris in 1846 by Belgian-born Adolphe Sax, the saxophone was readily embraced by French composers who were first to champion the instrument through ensemble and solo compositions. The French tradition, expertly demonstrated on this recording, pays homage to the élan, esprit and elegance delivered by this unique and versatile instrument.

Pierre Max Dubois (1930–95) was a French composer, writing mostly for woodwind, especially the saxophone. He studied at the Tours Conservatory and was awarded the Prix de Rome, a coveted governmental award for musicians and artists, in 1955. The Quatuor pour saxophones was premièred in 1962 and has since become a staple of the saxophone quartet repertoire. Dubois’ music is usually light-hearted with interesting melodic and harmonic textures which can be clearly heard in his saxophone quartet.

The Ouverture uses jaunty syncopation throughout, with the soprano saxophone playing the melody above the other saxes. The mood is light with the instruments exploring the full range of dynamics and passing melodic ideas between them. The melody keeps returning in various guises until the final reprise.

Doloroso, meaning ‘sorrowfully’, explores the singing properties of the saxophone, each instrument ringing out with its own lament which gradually builds and becomes more fugal in texture, ending quietly with a final unified sigh.

The busy and excited Spirituoso is an animated segue into the final movement. The Andante builds in chordal interest until the soprano saxophone leads the Presto in an enthusiastic melody. The light-heartedness and syncopation of the first movement is rekindled with the saxophones again passing ideas between them and exploring their dynamic ranges.

Gabriel Pierné (1863–1937) was born in Metz but moved to Paris in 1871 following the Franco-Prussian War. Studying at the Paris Conservatoire, he gained many prizes for both performance and composition, most notably the Prix de Rome in 1882. Pierné became chief conductor of the Concerts Colonne series in 1910, conducting the world première of Stravinsky’s ballet The Firebird on 25th June 1910 in Paris.

Pierné’s style is very French, moving with ease between the light and playful to the more contemplative. The Introduction et variations sur une ronde populaire was composed in 1936 and dedicated to the Marcel Mule Quartet. The opening of the piece is slow and reflective, with the harmonies changing colourfully. The two interruptions of the rondo theme, played over a sustained chord, break the atmosphere and hint at a more joyful mood. The rondo theme is excited and jovial with the following variations virtuosic and bright. Two short interludes, based on a motif from the introduction, provide a moment of contemplation before the light yet elegant mood is regained.

Jean Françaix (1912–97) was born into a musical family and his inherent musicality was encouraged from a young age. Composing from the age of six he studied at the Le Mans and Paris Conservatories, at the latter of which he met Nadia Boulanger, an eminent composition teacher, who encouraged his career. A skilled orchestrator, he was able to tease many colours from the music and as an avowed neoclassicist, rejecting atonality, often put his own interpretation on traditional modes of expression.

The majority of Françaix’s saxophone compositions were written between the mid-1930s and early 1960s. His compositional style is light and witty and this can be seen in the Petit quatuor. Gaguenardise, loosely translated as ‘bantering’, is a ternary form movement with the saxophones dancing around sharing ideas in the outer sections with a contrasting legato middle section. The Cantilène is scored only for alto, tenor and baritone. Structured in an arch form, the dynamic gradually crescendoes and then dies away. As the name suggests, this movement allows the saxophones to sing soulfully, playing legato throughout. Sérénade comique is playful in character with a variety of interplay between the saxophones.

Alfred Desenclos (1912–71) had a comparatively late start in music. During his teenage years he had to work to support his family, but in his early twenties he studied the piano at the Conservatory in Roubaix and won the Prix de Rome in 1942. He composed a large number of works, which being mostly melodic and harmonic were often overlooked in the more experimental post-war period.

Desenclos’ Quatuor pour saxophones, composed in 1964, was commissioned by the French Parliament for the Marcel Mule Quartet. It is very lyrical and expressive in style. The first movement is written using two contrasting themes with the first being agitated. The soprano saxophone leads the angular melody the majority of the time and the other saxophones murmur in response. The second theme is more relaxed, the mood more pastoral, but it soon returns to the agitated feeling following an ascending passage across the four saxophones.

The Andante is slow and languorous. The dream-like mood of the first section is interrupted by the other saxophones who, having listened to the soprano’s soaring melody, now run and leap with fast, syncopated ideas. The original lyrical, contemplative mood returns after a turbulent run and ferocious chords.

The Finale starts with a unified, staccato introduction. The ideas from this are then used throughout the movement with the saxophones trading virtuosic scale passages. The middle section is more lyrical and reflective in feel with a triplet motif being explored. The music is light, full of jazz-inspired syncopation and energy.

Eugène Bozza was born in Nice in 1905 to a French mother and an Italian father. At the age of ten he followed in his father’s footsteps and moved to Italy where he studied the violin. Returning to Paris, he attended the Conservatoire on three separate occasions, first as a violinist, then conductor, then as a composer. With a varied musical career in between his studies, he won two Premier Prix awards and is one of the most prolific composers of chamber music for wind instruments.

The Andante et Scherzo, composed in 1943, is dedicated to the Paris Quartet. This enjoyable piece is divided into two parts. A tenor solo starts the Andante section and is followed by a gentle chorus with the other saxophones. The lyrical quality of the melodic solos continues as the accompaniment becomes busier. The second section is fast and lively, with staccato playing and exciting syncopation. Interjections from each saxophone carry the melody throughout the full range of the quartet. A more legato middle section uses ideas from the Andante, but the underlying current of energy continues and sweeps the piece to its exciting conclusion.

Florent Schmitt, born in 1870 in Meurthe-et-Moselle, studied at the Paris Conservatoire, winning the Prix de Rome in 1900. He worked as a music critic for Le Temps during the 1930s and in this rôle often created controversy, shouting out damning verdicts from his seat in the audience. Schmitt’s music was regularly performed in the first half of the 20th century but was gradually neglected. He continued to compose until his death in 1958.

The first movement of his Quatuor pour saxophones, Op. 102 is a fugue, with the principal theme stated on the tenor saxophone. The contrapuntal texture develops until a more relaxed melodic section is reached and the unified flourishes in the middle pave way for the restating of the original theme. Vif is a tumbling, nimble and playful movement with syncopated accompaniment underneath the more lyrical melodic passages. Assez lent opens with a repeated idea in the baritone, followed by slow and reflective chordal movement from the higher saxes. Animé sans excès starts again with the baritone, introducing the energetic spirit of the music. Schmitt’s Saxophone Quartet is inventive and calls for a wide variety of sonorities from the ensemble, with the excitement sustained until the final note.

Claire Tomsett-Rowe

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