Classical Notes, Nick Boston

In 2015, saxophonist Huw Wiggin’s recital was the highlight of the Brighton Festival’s lunchtime concerts, and the following year he returned with the fellow members of the Ferio Saxophone Quartet to wow audiences once again.So it’s great to see that they now have a recording contract with Chandos and have launched their debut commercial disc with a wonderful programme of original works for the saxophone quartet.

The centerpiece of the disc is a set of six Cíudades (Cities) by the Dutch saxophonist Willem van Merwijk, under his composing pen name of Guillermo Lago (b.1960). They performed a selection of these at that Festival gig, and the persistent energy of Tokyo, the mournful, eastern inflections of Sarajevo, as well as the bustling Addis Ababa struck me as highly evocative then. So it’s great to hear the other movements, such as the rhythmically driven Córdoba with its contrasting slow sections, and the Piazzolla-esque slow tango, Montevideo.

The quartet inhabits each of these cities, and communicates their evocative moods well. They clearly like Lago’s music, as they have since commissioned another work, ‘The Wordsworth Poems’. Lago’s writing is very atmospheric here too, and the quartet exploits some very quiet playing in the first movement, ‘Composed on Westminster Bridge’, to great effect.

The disc opens with an altogether more sedate affair, a delightful Grand Quatuor concertant by the Belgian composer Jean-Baptise Singelée (1812-1875), with great melodic invention, allowing each instrument to shine. This is followed by an elegant set of variations on a jaunty little theme, the Introduction et variations sur une ronde populaire by Gabriel Pierné (1863-1937).

This earlier, more Romantic repertoire allows the quartet to demonstrate their ability to create a beautifully unified, warm tone, as well as bring each instrument to the fore when required.

The recording is rounded off with a lively Hoe Down by Will Gregory (b.1959) (of Goldfrapp fame), showcasing the baritone sax amid the dancing rhythms.

Even if you don’t think you like the saxophone (although why wouldn’t you?), this deserves attention for the sheer variety of repertoire and the impressive talent of these four players. Highly recommended.