Let me say categorically that the LSQ, as their printed material calls them, are phenomenally talented saxophonists: Joel Garthwaite (sop.), Hannah Riches (alto), Lewis Evans (tenor) and Lauren Hamer ( bari.). These recordings appear to be their second and third albums; a previous 2008 effort Catching Sunlight was published on another label. Apart from the exquisite performance standards, the internal balance is perfect, the recording quality superb and the intonation so precise as to permit 'beat frequency' experimentation in two of the tracks. As quartet performances go the ones captured here would be very difficult indeed to beat.
These Visions contains: On Song (John Metcalf), The Head of Brass (Peter Reynolds), Caneuon Cymru (Chris Petrie), Some of the Silence (Hilary Tann), a five movement Lunar Seas (Christopher Painter), These Visions Did Appear... (Mark David Boden) and a three movement Hevelspending (Ashley John Long). Running time 72 minutes.
Flux contains, on disc 1: LM-7: Aquarius (Gabriel Jackson), Flux (Ashley John Long), Diaphanousphere (Lucy Pankhurst), Five Short Pieces (Keith Tippett). Running time 44 minutes. Disc 2: VENT (Graham Fiktin), Chair Legs (Eric Schwartz), In Memoriam (James Williamson) and De L'hotel de La Ville a La Concorde (Michael Nyman). Running time 37 minutes.
Before this reviewer sat down to Listen to the discs I read through the packaging material which carried the following, at the time a heartening announcement, on the sleeve of Flux: '(this) is the LSQ's most ambitious project to date. The music on these discs reflects their attempt to build a repertoire that is both coherent in terms of the group and which will be accessible, without compromise.' Unfortunately I found far too much of LSQ's content impossible to access if the term implies understanding and this set me wondering. Have the arts become infested in the way that political correctness has infested modern-day Life? If they have, what is the infestation visited upon the contemporary music scene? Let me make a suggestion. Let's call it ON. This could stand for outrageous novelty (shades of ‘Emperor’s New Clothes') or it could stand for ‘orrible noise'. New music written to attract or meet the needs of arts funding bodies appears to have a number of common factors; Little or no melody, unresolved dissonance, Little structure and often precious little rhythmic direction. Oh, and it's fiendishly difficult to play.
Enough of the negative! LSQ's disc 2 in the Flux set is superb; all four pieces make interesting listening. Fitkin's VENT is his own adaptation of an earlier clarinet quartet work and jolly successful is the transition to saxophones. The Schwartz item is another fascinating and entertaining set to play and to listen to. The four contrasting movements each relate to dance patterns. Whilst In Memoriam starts out with somewhat sad and sorrowful long notes with overtones the item develops harmonically extremely well and displays the awesome stamina of LSQ's embouchures! Finally the Nyman 'portrait' principally in 5/4 provides a spirited exit from what could be a fine second-half concert programme.
Returning to These Visions, all very modern works essentially by Welsh born/trained or currently located composers mostly young, I found significant portions of the material too difficult to describe and must refer the reader to the sample tracks on the publisher's website. The second track includes poetic narrative as well as what sounded like a bird song warbler, most off-putting. Of course the LSQ plays magnificently throughout but I can't imagine an audience made up of anyone other than the composers/players, their relatives and advanced sax students, applauding for anything other than pure survival at the end. Much the same comment applies to the Flux disc l.
What a pity such magnificent playing talent cannot identify and co-operate with modern composers capable of originating new music truly accessible without compromise on the part of the listener.