Despite its versatility, the saxophone is too often overlooked as a solo instrument. This appealing collection of works pairs original compositions alongside reimagined popular classics in a welcome celebration of this agile and sonorous instrument.
Having won the Commonwealth Musician of the Year and the 2014 Royal Overseas League Annual Music Competition, Huw Wiggin is fast emerging as one of the UK’s star saxophonists.
He brings a keen musical intelligence and a remarkably beautiful sound to these performances, ably accompanied by John Lenehan (piano) and Oliver Wass (harp).
Marcello’s Concerto in D minor (originally for oboe) works splendidly, and Lenehan deftly conjures the crispness of a fortepiano in his accompaniment, while in Manuel de Falla’s 7 Canciones populares españolas Wiggin brings both silk and spice to his vibrant interpretation.
Indeed, the real highlights of the disc are two works originally composed for saxophone and piano: Paule Maurice’s lyrical Tableaux de Provence (1948-55) and Takashi Yoshimatsu’s Sing Bird (1991).
In the latter, the saxophone is scored in a quasi-improvisatory style to soar and wheel, and Wiggin brings dazzling flair and imagination to his performance, providing a notably uplifting close to this enjoyable disc.
It was the recordings of saxophonist John Harle that introduced me to the classical saxophone via a range of borrowed melodies [discs like John Harle’s Saxophone Songbook]. On this disc from Orchid Classics, entitled Reflections, the young saxophone player Huw Wiggin, accompanied by John Lenehan (piano) and by Oliver Wass (harp), presents an eclectic programme of music by Alessandro Marcello, Franz Schubert, Edvard Grieg, Camille Saint-Saens, Claude Debussy, Manuel de Falla, Paule Maurice, Astor Piazzolla, Nikolai Rimsky Korsakov and the contemporary Japanese composer Takashi Yoshimatsu.
Invented by Adolphe Sax in the mid-19th century the saxophone was intended as a classical instrument, it never really caught on in orchestras but its ability to play fast passages like a woodwind instrument yet to project like a brass one led it to be popular in military bands. It does crop up occasionally in 19th-century French opera, such as Ambroise Thomas’ Hamlet and Giacomo Meyerbeer’s Le Prophete, and Debussy wrote for it. But it would be in jazz that the instrument found a real home in the 20th century. Techniques are different, and it requires a real leap to move from the smokey vibrato-led sleaze of the jazz saxophone to the more straight-toned classical style.
Huw Wiggin’s great virtue on this disc is that he makes it sound so natural and obvious.
He plays with a nice fluid tone, the instrument’s combination of reed and keys with a metal body giving a lovely mix of flexibility and edge to the tone. This is a very mobile sound, but one capable of many different incarnations.
I was particularly struck by the Debussy arrangements, Arabesque No. 1 and The Girl with the Flaxen Hair, where Wiggin is partnered by Oliver Wass’s harp. A seemingly unlikely combination that works real magic. Similarly, the ‘Air’ from Grieg’s Holberg Suite gives an entirely different slant to the music and, as with any good transcription, this one reinvents the music brilliantly.
Debussy’s work for saxophone and orchestra is not on this disc, but we do have 20th-century French composer Paule Maurice’s Tableaux de Provence, originally written for saxophone and orchestra between 1948 and 1955 and consisting of five charming pictures of Provencal life.
Though much of the music on the disc is lyrical, Manuel de Falla’s 7 Canciones populares espanolas give us a chance to sample the saxophone’s rhythmic and textural dexterity, something which appears in a different context in the fast outer movements of Alessandro Marcello’s Concerto and Nikolai Rimsky Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumble Bee.
The Debussy pieces apart, John Lenehan accompanies on the piano, providing a sympathetic and imaginative partnership, as well as doing some of the arrangements.
This is a lovely disc, combining musicianship and imagination, and giving us a fascinating glimpse into the world of the classical saxophone.
Royal Overseas League Gold Medal Winner and Royal Academy of Music professor Huw Wiggin has a new album of saxophone music. Reflections is a personal collection of favourite pieces: some familiar classics arranged for soprano and alto saxophone, plus one delightful outing for a rarely heard of composer – Paule Maurice.
Huw’s playing challenges assumptions about the saxophone. In some respects I think it’s the most challenging instrument to market, one that the audience pigeon-holes in rock, jazz or 80s pop. But in the right hands, the sound of a soprano sax in particular has a distinctive and unorthodox kind of elegance to it – a kind of souped-up cor anglais minus the ponderous baggage.
You can hear what I mean in the second movement of the Marcello – a soft persistent legato glides gently over gallant chords in the piano accompaniment.
Wiggin resists melancholy or over-sentimentality, creating something brimming with strong-jawed pride. In a similar way, the deeply personal Du bist die Ruh sings in a way I rarely hear the saxophone sound. And whilst I’m on the subject of legatos, his arrangement of The Swan from Saint-Saens Carnival of the Animals is more swan-like than the original setting for cello and chamber orchestra.
The notable delight on the album is a recording of French composer Paule Maurice’s work Tableaux de Provence – a rich, sophisticated evocation of Provence-life in the 1940s written in a neo-classical style…
Much of what I’ve come to really appreciate in this entire album is the recording technique. That’s not to do play down Huw Wiggin’s or pianist John Lenehan’s work, but it is the mix of sounds – a sometimes forte-piano sound from the keyboard combined with a saxophone that muffles the movement of the keys and doesn’t make too much of the articulation – that challenges the assumptions I referred to earlier.
And having listened to the album a number of times over the past month or so, I’d put it up there on my top ten list of favourites this year alongside Lewis Wright’s works for vibraphone, and Tenebrae’s Symphonic Psalms and Prayers.
HENLEY Symphony Orchestra’s ever popular summer concert was presented to a large audience in the grand marquee at Shiplake College on Saturday.
The highlight of the evening was from the soloist, Huw Wiggin, a virtuoso of the saxophone if there ever was one. Huw comes from Henley, was Commonwealth Musician of the Year and amply demonstrated how well he deserves the prizes he has obtained and the plaudits of the musical press.
The concert opened with Elgar’s Cockaigne Overture — a reference to the Arcadian land but describing with affection and no little irony London and its inhabitants; very English of around 1900 and convincingly performed by the excellent string section and the no less excellent brass. A change of scene took us to Russia and the powers of evil in Night on the Bare Mountain, a Mussorgsky depiction of wild revelry of witches and terror culminating in a tamtam stroke which heralds the arrival of the Archfiend.
Relief arrived with the introduction of the soloist, Huw Wiggin and the soprano saxophone to play a Michael Nyman composition, Where the Bee Dances.
This complex work, in which tempo and time signatures seemed to change with every bar, demanded much from the orchestra who responded admirably and the result was curiously highly enjoyable.
The inspiration of the work which the soloist played from memory is the foraging flight of the bee, forever circling, swooping and gathering nectar. But on to more familiar music with the Spanish scene from Bizet’s Carmen Suite No1.
These much-loved and tuneful excerpts were engagingly played and here the fine wind soloists came to the fore.
But back to Huw Wiggin for his second appearance now with alto saxophone for the Debussy Rhapsody, a lovely work, the smooth and liquid tone of the instrument so effective.
We were furthermore treated to an encore, variations on a Carmen theme and demonstrating virtuoso sax playing in spades! I had not believed such fast fingering was possible.
The concert finished with a further change of scene, Tchaikovski’s Marche Slave commemorating 19th century Russian support for Serbia but now a vehicle for the HSO’s splendid horn quartet. This was a varied and innovative programme, thoroughly well played and enjoyed by all who came.
Westmorland Gazette, Brian Paynes
The Kendal Midday Concert Club has the happy knack – when faced with last-minute changes of artist – of finding replacements of equal professional standing who are significantly much more than mere ‘replacements’. Such was the case recently when the pianist, James Sherlock, due to partner the saxophonist, Huw Wiggin, in an attractive pre-Christmas recital, was indisposed and unable to appear. In his place Huw called upon Somi Kim, a young South Korean lady, who studied in New Zealand, graduating in 2013, won numerous prizes there and, after moving to the UK to study at the Royal Academy and winning further prizes, has become a Park Lane Group Artist. Somi has gained much experience in repetiteuring and is much sought after as a chamber musician and song accompanist.
Thus the Kendal enthusiasts had before them two supreme performers who treated them to a dazzling display of musicianship, artistry and technical wizardry, the like of which they can only occasionally have encountered. They know Huw Wiggin well – three years ago he warmed the cockles of their hearts with an awe-inspiring display of saxophonology. His programme now, as then, largely revolved around arrangements of other composers’ works and how attractive and successful those arrangements are, and how demanding for both players, too!
Huw, be he on Alto or Soprano saxophone, has absolute control over tone quality, wide dynamic ranges, breathing, sensitivity of phrasing, rhythmic security and stylistic authenticity. Iturralde, Piazzolla, Bach, Grieg, Yoshimatsu, Bernstein – their works were all blessed with authoritative, exciting and illuminating performances.
Somi, virtuoso page-turner, the perfect partner and technically stunning was always breathing and phrasing with him and exhibiting an enormous range of colour and tone. Never did she wrongly dominate, her instinct for correct balance being impregnable. Her realisations of two Brahms Intermezzi were just divine.
Rarely does the Club’s audience raise a final rousing cheer – they did on this occasion, and justly so.
Classical Reviews, Joe Fuller (Brighton Festival 2015)
Sometimes a concert can be so original, daring & musically dazzling that it takes one’s breath away and reminds us of the potential of live music. Huw Wiggin’s virtuoso saxophone playing was one such occasion. The programme was fascinating, including two stunning pieces from Graham Fitkin: ‘Glass’ was a melancholy number that was beautifully simple, still and moving (featuring subtle piano backing from James Sherlock) whereas ‘Gate’ was a more technically challenging piece that was a rewarding showstopper.
Most memorable however was Andy Scott’s tribute to Esbjorn Svensson: ‘Three Letter Word’. Written with Wiggin in mind, it was melodic, poppy and jazzy; a new but somehow instantly familiar piece with a strut and confidence about it that was invigorating. A magnificent afternoon from a talented, hugely promising musician.