Huw Wiggin and James Sherlock’s entertaining platform manner, sparring off each other verbally as well as musically

Derby Telegraph

It’s taken a long time for the classical world to fully embrace the saxophone. Even now the repertoire relies on a disproportionate number of transcriptions – not necessarily a bad thing, but symptomatic of a gap that is still closing.

The one original saxophone piece in the recital by Huw Wiggin and pianist James Sherlock was the opening item, Pedro Iturralde’s Pequeña czarda. The players’ full command of its changing moods was typical of the evening as a whole. Wiggin switched from alto to soprano instrument for two movements from Astor Piazzolla’s  Histoire du tango, exploring an impressive dynamic range, and producing a delectable cor anglais-like tone at the bottom of the instrument’s compass.

Baroque music can work surprisingly well on the saxophone. In a transcription of the D minor Oboe Concerto by Alessandro Marcello (still sometimes mis-attributed to his brother, Bendetto) there was magical stillness in the second movement and some nimble playing in the third. In the G minor Flute Sonata, BWV 1020, attributed to JS Bach but now generally thought to be by his son Carl Philipp Emanuel, and drive in the outer movements were balanced by poise and elegance in the middle one.

I was a bit apprehensive as to how Franck’s Violin Sonata would survive transcription for alto sax, but it came out of it rather well. Wiggin and Sherlock expertly balanced the work’s latent passion with the poise of both the opening and the canonic finale.

Huw Wiggin took a break in each half, leaving James Sherlock centre-stage. Liszt’s transcription of ‘Widmung’, the openingnumber of Schumann’s song-cycle Myrthen, was given a soulfulperformance. Introducing Poulenc’s Mélancholie in thesecond half, Sherlock said that in spite of the title it was one ofthe happiest pieces he knew. His playing, though, told a different story, clearly the true one. If Poulenc had hit upon Elgar’s phrase’smiling with a sigh’ this is a piece he would surely have applied it to.

The evening’s success was partly down to Huw Wiggin and James Sherlock’s entertaining platform manner, sparring off each other verbally as well as musically – a style of given its head in François Borne’s virtuoso Fantasie on themes from Carmen. I’ll even let them off starting half-way through it without telling anyone.