They are arrangements or commissioned works specially written for the Aurelia Saxophone Quartet. The question that arises is ‘why isn’t there much more written for saxophones’.
Before 1860 that wasn’t possible, simply because the instrument didn’t yet exist. But in 2007 the challenge has to be taken up, because the sound, colour and interaction are in such good hands with the Aurelia! Even in the ancient pieces such as the Chromatic Fantasy by Sweelinck, in an arrangement by Willem van Merwijk. In a brilliant fuge-like story constructed from descending half tones, the colours and tones flatter and strengthen each other, warm and velvety. The music seems made for the higharched choir of the Pieterskerk, rising up and embracing you, while the structure of the entwined voices stays clear and colourful to the smallest details.
‘My string quartet should sound like a saxophone’ Ravel is reported to have said. For Aurelia one of the reasons to undertake the bold move of adapting Ravel’s string quartet (1903); and more than successfully. Even with the sound of strings in mind, the mysterious gorgeous timbre is nonetheless striking. Ravel’s drama is executed more intensely and sensually than the original on strings; the dynamic seems passionately built up, the tempo thoughtfully paced, the rubati more meaningful. The second part hurtles, swings; and the soprano saxophone shrieks almost like a violin. In the third section, the alto, followed by the other saxophones, concentrates the same line into the most subtle sound and colour differences, fanning out from each other, coming back together in a bewitching vague dissonance, and it takes your breath away. Seldom do you hear wind musicians so perfectly melding together. It is fireworks in the last section; it is as if the world is ending, so energetic is the crescendo of the melody. Later the four voices seem to obstinately go their own way to produce a lively, exciting synergy.
Simon Burgers’ piece, ‘Widor’s House’ (2000) written specially for the Aurelia begins as a long gargling ‘underwater wind cannon’. Percussion and electronics carry the composition that hectically moves into fast fluttering runs, which time after time release a broad melody that makes you think of Smetena’s ‘Moldau’; at the end this is especially emphasised by the baritone.
Samuel Barber’s world famous Adagio moves from his sober modest tone, his sad long melody lines that die, resprouting again as a rose coloured tint and blooms fully into brilliant red. And here you also forget the string players that this piece was originally written for.
Joey Roukens (1982), young upstart that he is, extremely frankly references Bach and Palestrina in his own manner in Quodlibet (2004). You hear the keys of the organ dancing in jumpy motifs, the pedal rumbles in swelling combined tones that are full of tension, in canonistic lines that follow each other like pesky chickens in a run.
Discordant rhythm brings you back to the musicians. Church organ and saxophone, they fit perfectly.