…Since its invention in the 19th Century the saxophone has come along way from its relatively humble beginnings as an instrument to play in a marching or military band;
as the four young players of the Ferio Quartet demonstrated, it is an immensely versatile instrument and capable of great expression. When used in a quartet formation, the four instruments together can reach the same heights of intimacy as a string quartet.
Important to this award-winning ensemble is the commissioning of new works. Thus, on this occasion, we heard a recently commissioned piece by the Dutch player, Guillermo Lago, together with another of his works begun in 2011. But before this our attention was immediately grabbed by the group’s opening piece, their own arrangements of movements from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite.
Any sceptic in the audience wondering how such colourful orchestral music would sound on just four instruments, would soon find their scepticism unfounded. The rhythmic vitality and precision of the playing of Tchaikovsky’s Miniature Overture immediately made the piece come alive. What was remarkable in all the movements we heard was how successful and effective these transcriptions were. Even the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, which in the orchestral version uses a celesta to add a touch of individual colour to the main tune, was not diminished when the celesta part was transferred to the saxophone; the oily sound of the baritone sax, replacing the bass clarinet of the original, was equally effective.
The Russian Dance was electrifying as the four players raced through at breakneck speed but with immaculate ensemble and tremendous virtuosity.
Next came two movements from a lovely saxophone quartet by Hugo Reinhart. Although written in 2006 the style was deliberately pastiche, 19th Century, echoing music from the time before the saxophone was invented. The piece again revealed the versatility of the instrument: the long plaintive slow movement was beautifully sustained and was followed by a vigorous presto.
What followed was a revelation: Bach’s Italian Concerto, a demanding enough work for two hands on one keyboard with its technical difficulties no less diminished when four instruments are deployed in the composer’s contrapuntal masterpiece.
This was a beautifully controlled performance revealing musicianship of the highest order.
In all, this was a hugely enjoyable concert with so much to admire: the technical virtuosity of the four young players, their ensemble playing, but, above all, the beauty of the sound they produced. We look forward to another visit.