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These visions

Lunar Saxophone Quartet
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Recording details: July 2010
Ty Cerdd, Wales
Produced by James Clarke
Engineered by James Clarke
Release date: November 2010
Total duration: 71 minutes 54 seconds
 

Formed in 2002, the award winning Lunar Saxophone Quartet has developed a reputation for their commitment to composer/performer collaborations, leading to dozens of commissions from a variety of different composers. Performances have spanned a wide range of occasions, from Bryn Terfel's 'Faenol Festival' and the Welsh BBC Proms, to live broadcasts on BBC TV and Radio.

The present album features a programme of newly commissioned works by some of Wales's youngest and most gifted composers together with those of more established figures.

Reviews

'I tend to be cautious with 'classical' saxophones; they can be strident and assertive, especially in small-venue recitals, but here the sound is home-friendly, mainly discreet and mellow … strikingly good; properly informative and interesting notes, with graphic design and photography unified' (Musical Pointers)» More

'[The LSQ] are phenomenally talented saxophonists: Joel Garthwaite (sop.), Hannah Riches (alto), Lewis Evans (tenor) and Lauren Hamer ( bari.) … Apart from the exquisite performance standards, the internal balance is perfect, the recording quality superb … LSQ plays magnificently throughout' (Clarinet & Saxophone)» More
Gwyneth Lewis’s words that emblazon the façade of the Wales Millennium Centre express not only a confidence for the future of the arts in Wales, but also a quiet optimism for their present good health. Certainly for composers working in Wales there are now a multitude of possibilities, collaborations and different media in which they can work: possibilities undreamt of thirty years ago. One such development are young professional groups of musicians such as Lunar Saxophone Quartet, three of whose members trained in Cardiff (at the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama) and now lead busy careers both in Wales (under the auspices of the Live Music Now, Cymru / Wales scheme) and London. Working with a line-up of four saxophones means that commissioning new scores and good arrangements of pre-existing material represents the life-blood of the group’s repertoire. There is no fallback position into the repertoire of the past.

Taking as their motto the words of Shakespeare which stand at the top of Mark David Boden’s piece on this disc, the LSQ have worked for several years to bring to fruition a project that combines the music of some of Wales’s youngest and most gifted composers with that of more established figures such as John Metcalf, Hilary Tann and Christopher Painter. With the exception of Mark David Boden’s piece (which was still composed for lsq), all the works on this disc were written both for a Welsh tour in the autumn of 2010 and for inclusion on the present disc. Working and collaborating with all the composers on this disc is integral to the scheme. Indeed, Hilary Tann has written elsewhere that, 'it’s so important for composers to work with performers—especially with performers as outgoing and receptive asthe members of the LSQ. It’s also a reason why composers should plan to come to 'early' rehearsals. These are more important than last rehearsals and concerts. It’s when the music gets done!'

John Metcalf On song
On song was written in April and May 2010 in response to a commission from Live Music Now Cymru / Wales for the Lunar Saxophone Quartet. The commission—part of the Mapping Wales project celebrating twenty years of Live Music Now in Wales—was made possible with funds from the Performing Rights Society Foundation (PRSF). As the title suggests the colloquial term ‘on song’ is the starting point for a series of explorations of fragments of song. These fragments are explored in a simple melody and accompaniment style using a predominantly syncopated accompaniment. The reference points are many and varied—from operatic singing to plainsong, jazz to folk music. The piece is in a single movement and is built on a consistent pedal note—G. As the sections of the piece unfold, different modes are used above the pedal note which also becomes increasingly prominent in the texture. Eventually it is refined down to a single unaccompanied note G passed between the instruments. This signals the beginning of a final section which, after starting quietly, builds up to a powerful conclusion. Composer’s note On song was first heard at a concert given at the Riverfront, Newport, on 29 October 2010.

Peter Reynolds (Text by Simon Rees) The head of brass
The Honourable History of Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay is an Elizabethan era stage play, a comedy written by Robert Greene, around 1588-92 and is recognised as groundbreaking in terms of its multiple-plot structure. The head of brass takes one aspect of the play in which Friar Bacon labours to create an artificial head made of brass, animated by demonic influence, that can surround England with a protective wall of the same metal. Bacon’s inability to remain awake and the incompetence of his servant Miles, spoil the opportunity. The head of brass is written for narrator and saxophone quartet. When Simon Rees chose this episode from Greene’s play to accompany Peter Reynold’s piece, he took as a starting point the four 'heads of brass' that are an integral visual element of the saxophone quartet. In musical terms, Greene’s dotty friars and their anarchic servant, Miles, have been treated on a variety of stylistic levels: ranging from mock-gothic horror, with its roots in Weber’s Wolf’s Glen and the absurd world of H K Gruber’s Frankenstein, through to stylistic elements moreakin to the 1950s b-movie. It aims to entertain and should not be taken too seriously. The Lunar Saxophone Quartet commissioned The head of brass with funds provided by the Arts Council of Wales in association with the prs Foundation. The Lunar Saxophone Quartet (to whom it is dedicated) gave its first performance at Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff, on 5 November 2010.

Chris Petrie Caneuon Cymru
Identity forms both the background and formal shape of this work for saxophone quartet, Caneuon Cymru (Songs of Wales). Its basic thematic material is taken from Welsh folk songs drawn from a generic collection of the same title. Falling into a tripartite structure, the work’s underlying material is gradually revealed in the final section. The work calls for both the soprano and alto saxophones to double on alto and tenor saxophones respectively (there is also a second version that requires all four player to double on other saxophones). The composer has spoken of the music as 'exploring' his Welshness and the underlying contradictions that such a label currently suggests for him. Born in Essex, but spending his childhood and teenage years in the Welsh border town, Monmouth, before undertaking formal music studies in the Principality’s capital, Petrie now lives and works in London. Without the outward archetypal 'trappings' of Welshness, where does he now stand in relation to such questions of national identity and, indeed, is it even relevant? What is the nature of his (and others) inclusion in a disc of 'Welsh music'? Caneuon Cymru does not seek to answer such questions and, still less, to present its underlying thematic material in a self-consciously Welsh guise, and therein lies the basic question that the music poses. Caneuon Cymru was commissioned by the LSQ for the present disc and was first heard at a concert given at Lampeter University on 9 November 2010.

Hilary Tann Some of the silence

a deep gorge …
some of the silence
is me

Alongside her work as a composer, Hilary Tann is also a published haiku poet. The music of Some of the silence has evolved from the above haiku by John Stevenson, one of the pre-eminent haiku poets in the United States and a member, with Hilary Tann, of the Upstate Dim Sum haiku group. Stevenson’s haiku governs the overall shape of the piece and the composer has written: 'Haiku come alive in their after resonances—their ‘aha’ moments. Similarly, Japanese music works with the concept of a jo-ha-kyu curve—much like the shape of a wave which crests and then falls. So this piece falls into three sections. Each approaches ‘the gorge’—which is, after all, a sudden ‘falling off’ in one’s perceptions. At first the reaction is stunned: ‘what’s that?’ Next the genesis of the gorge is outlined (fluid passages) and the reaction is more scattered (‘so many facets’). Last, we return to the original image (coloured by the water-movement) and the reaction is softer, almost lyrical as the experience as a whole is synthesized. As a composer,my concern has been with ‘the far side of the curve’—not the climax, but the ‘result of/ reaction to’ the climax—the downward curve of the falling wave (the kyu part of the joha- kyu curve).'

Christopher Painter Lunar seas
The surface of the Moon is covered with large dark basaltic plains originally formed by ancient volcanic eruptions. Early astronomers mistook these for actual seas, dubbing them by the Latin term, Maria, and ascribing names and characters to the many such plains that cover the Moon’s surface. Christopher Painter’s short suite of pieces for saxophone quartet take names given to these imaginary seas and lakes, extending the original concept and bringing to them the drama and associations of the Earth’s seascapes. The pun contained within the title pays affectionate tribute to the group who commissioned the work: the Lunar Saxophone Quartet. The work is cast in five movements. In the first Lacus gaudii (Lake of joy), shifting metrical changes reflects the saxophone’s jazz-like associations. The second, Mare vaporum (Sea of vapours) conjures the mysterious vapours that appear to rise from this 'sea'. In it, indefinite pitches are suggested as the players breathe through their instruments, with more focused melodic lines emerging periodically. The melodic contours of the third movement, Mare anguis (Serpent sea), suggest the fanciful shapes of sea serpents that early astronomers perceived in this sea, situated on the near side of the Moon and some 150 miles in diameter. Lacus doloris (Lake of sorrows) forms a dark undulating slow movement whilst the finale, Mare procellarum (Ocean of storms) brings the work to a lively and brilliant conclusion. Lunar seas was commissioned by the LSQ for the present disc and was first heard at a concert given at Lampeter University on 9 November 2010.

Mark David Boden These visions did appear…
These visions did appear… takes inspiration from the Shakespearian character Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The work opens with gentle, mysterious chords, representing a dark woodland scene, with the gentle rustling of wind creating apprehensive energy. Nervous fragments of melody, which echo around the haunted environment, are interchanged between the instruments, leading to a powerful climax as Puck awakes and plots his mischief amongst evil spirits. Lively and energetic rhythms engulf the central section of the work, during which melodic fragments combine to form a quirky, roguish dance. As the nymph-like creature causes havoc and mayhem, energy levels increase, leading to frenetic homophonic rhythmic writing: the height of Puck’s impishness. Dawn approaches, and nervy energy is replaced by a nostalgic sense of reality; the end of playful dreaming. The music returns to a mystical sense of the unexpected: a nocturnal setting of relative calm.

These visions did appear… was first performed by the Lunar Saxophone Quartet at The Warehouse, Waterloo, London on 22 November 2008. The work was awarded First Prize in the LSQ New Music Competition 2008.

Ashley-John Long Hevelspending
The noun 'Hevelspending' originated in the Urgic dialect of an old Lappish community during the Fourth century. These days it is defined as 'the gasp made by one who, walking in the morning, smells spring in the air for the first time after a long winter'. Like many happy accidents, the composer only happened upon the word when the present work was some threequarters complete, but once encountered it seemed to resonate perfectly with the music already composed. The music falls into three sections: the first is characterised by vigorous rhythmic invention whose energy is constantly renewed by the regular rhythmic displacement. The second movement by comparison is all stillness, its harmonic patterns shifting almost imperceptibly. The third movement follows without a break returning to a renewed sense of vigour driven forward by closely interwoven melodic phrases. This movement in particular, in the composer’s words, owes something to 'my burgeoning interest in Appalachian folk music and the quartet as such, has a folk-like quality to the counterpoint'. Hevelspending was written for and dedicated to the Lunar Saxophone Quartet and was first heard on 9 November 2010 at Lampeter University.

Peter Reynolds 2010

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