Schubert's "Arpeggione" Sonata played on a tenor sax? I confess to approaching this disc with some trepidation! The 5-stringed Arpeggione which Schubert wrote for is long extinct, and this tricky but wonderful piece is usually played on the cello, with piano accompaniment.
I needn't have worried, however; we are in the hands of some fine musicians here. The indefatigable Niels Bijl adopted the sax at the age of 12 years, and currently plays the instrument for many European orchestras, including the Royal Concertgebouw and Anima Eterna, as well as working with chamber ensembles and jazz groups. Pianist Hans-Erik Dijkstra is Bijl's partner on this disc. He is also responsible for most of the transcriptions of the music of this "Mosaic" programme .
Bijl's premise for his choice of items is that the oldest and most compelling element of music is a good tune. Invented by Sax in 1841 to fill out the tone between orchestral winds and brass, the tenor sax in particular has become a fine melodic instrument in many genres.
The disc begins with a languid and sensuous account of "Song of the Birds", a Catalonian folk tune frequently used by the great cellist Pablo Casals as an encore. Bijl and Dijkstra move on to the Schubert Sonata D 821, which is most expressively done, both in sensitive transcription and committed performance. The unusually happy-sounding first movement belies its minor key, and Bijl copes admirably with its lyrical cantabiles and tricky rapid passage work. The duo take around 2 mins longer over the first movement compared with the timings of Britten and Rostropovich's classic version, but are a little swifter and more flowing in the heavenly slow movement and also in the spirited and humorous finale. My attention was held throughout, and it occurred to me that Schubert, rather than spinning like a top in his grave, might well have called "bravo" for the sonorous liquid tones of the tenor sax, not to mention the superb support from pianist Dyjkstra.
Even more unlikely choices of music for the saxophone are the 5 Scriabin Preludes for piano, Op. 16. However, the melodic lines of the often very simple piano part are easily taken over by the sax. No. 1 is given an appropriately perfumed impressionist flavour, with the wide leaps in its melodies taken flawlessly. No.2 is a little gem of wistful elegance, rising to a passionate affirmation, and No. 3 is gently flowing and whimsical, Bijl managing very soft tones, not an easy task on a large wind instrument. The tiny No. 4 is indeed sotto voce, and here I noted some alterations of note values in the melody to give it more of a lilt. The 5th piece is an utterly charming Allegretto; pert, refined and delicious.