Saxophone, Piano and Harp at the QEH

But not all together. Yesterday evening's programme of French music at the Queen Elizabeth Hall began and ended with orchestral works by Arthur Honeger (1892-1955): his music isn't played much nowadays, but in the 1920s he was part of the French modernistic movement (though he was more restrained than the other composers). The concert opened with his short piece Pastorale d'été, a gentle representation of the countryside with just a hint of jazz influence. The last item was his Fourth Symphony (Deliciae Basilienses), which is less serious than his other symphonies: it is 'modern' only in the context of its period - some of it is reminiscent of later Walton - and is lively and easy on the ear. Both well played by the London Philharmonic conducted by Vladimir Jurowski.

The saxophone, piano and harp featured in the intervening pieces. Martin Robertson played Debussy's Rapsodie for Alto Saxphone and Orchestra, written at the beginning of the 20th century when the saxophone was still a novelty (and regarded with some suspicion - which its later associations with jazz never dispelled in the classical world). This is the sound of the saxophone before Lester Young, and Debussy made good use of its rather over-rich sound.

As to piano, Artur Pizarro gave a spectacular performance of Saint-Saëns' frothy 5th Piano Concerto (tagged 'The Egyptian' because of its vaguely oriental sound, though some of it in fact uses the pentatonic scale associated with the Far East). Interestingly he used a Blüthner piano rather than the ubiquitous Steinway: its mellower, more fluid, tone was much more suited to the rippling music than a Steinway's percussive brilliance.

Debussy wrote his Danses for Harp and String Orchestra in 1904 as a commission by instrument manufacturer Pleyel to show off their 'chroma harp', which had five more strings per octave than the usual harp to provide a chromatic scale (where the ordinary harp uses pedals to change the pitch of the seven notes per octave of the major scale). The piece makes much use of changing keys and chords without sounding like a deliberate show-off: however as Rachel Masters ably demonstrated a skilled harpist can play the piece perfectly well on a conventional harp. The Pleyel harp never caught on, and joined the quarter-tone piano and the Sinclair C5 in the dustbin of history.

Posted: Thu - March 29, 2007 at 09:42 AM by Roger Wilmut          



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Published On: Mar 11, 2016 05:00 PM