Home | Reviews | Articles | Festivals | Competitions | Other | Contact Us

Nyman, Glass, Bryars, Reich

Michael Nyman -- "Songs for Tony", first movement
Philip Glass -- Mishima
Gavin Bryars -- Alaric I or II
Steve Reich -- New York Counterpoint
Soft Machine (insp. by) -- "Dedicated to you but you weren't listening"

Delta Saxophone Quartet, Turner Sims Concert Hall, Southampton, 3 March 2009

The dynamic Delta Saxophone Quartet brought an unusual and varied repertoire to Southampton University's Turner Sims Concert Hall on a very wet and stormy Tuesday night. Their new line-up features Martin Robertson, who is associated with several groundbreaking modern saxophone concertos and in particular with the work of Mark Anthony Turnage.

The first half showcased minimalist classics arranged for saxophone quartet, seminal works which, whether you enjoy their style or not, have been very influential in recent musical developments. Michael Nyman's piece takes its name not from the last Prime Minister, but is something of a requiem for a manager whom Nyman worked closely with who died recently. It is a gentle introduction to the genre, with a precise minimalist opening leading into a mellow melody being superimposed upon a rhythmic background. It is a likeable work which made a good opener and was perhaps my personal favourite of the evening.

Philip Glass's "Mishima" (originally for the Kronos string quartet) is a classic hardcore minimalism and features the typical Glass sound world reminiscent of "Einstein on the Beach" and "Sachygraha". I thought this arrangement for saxophone ensemble preferable to the original string version. Gavin Bryars was inspired by the jazz saxophonist Evan Parker and the composer Percy Grainger; Parker is known for multiphonic playing at the extremes of the instruments' range and for using circular breathing. Percy Grainger liked the nasal quality which saxophones can have. The combination of these made for a work which was bizarre, intriguing and technically demanding.

The quartet then returned listeners to a more familiar territory to close the first half of their performance with Steve Reich's "New York Counterpoint" which uses live players alongside a tape recording of them playing the same instruments, so that each musician is able to effectively perform a duet with himself. Originally for clarinets, it worked well here with saxophones.

The second half was inspired by the works of the progressive rock band "Soft Machine" and featured tracks from the Quartet's highly acclaimed 2007 release disc "dedicated to you but you were not listening". The players explained that this album had been conceived at the EtnaFest in southern Italy during the summer of 2006, where they had been working with one of the original band members, who is now sadly battling against leukaemia. The quartet's aim was to continue in the original bands compositional style, rather than simply seek to arrange their tracks for different instrumentation, and they have commissioned work from a wide variety of sources to achieve this. This set was relaxed, creative, upbeat and enjoyable. As with the earlier section, Chris Caldwell, who plays baritone, gave an informal but informative introduction to each work.

It was good to hear this combination of unusual music and excellent playing without the usual journey home from London's South Bank. The Turner Sims to be congratulated on bringing innovative performance like this to the local scene here on the South Coast.

Julie Williams