Saxophone performance lacks personality

Classical saxophone Maurice Theodore Kerkezos accompanied by the LPO is overshadowed by the likes of Debussy and Schmitt

Composer: Debussy, Schmitt, Tomasi, D’Indy
Repertoire: Music for saxophone and orchestra 
Artists: Maurice Theodore Kerkezos (sax), London Symphony Orchestra/Yuri Simonov
Rating:  3/5
Genre: Orchestral 
Label: Onyx Classics 4065

The Music The great saxophone voices of the 20th century – Coleman Hawkins, John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman – were all black jazz musicians, and the instrument’s 19th-century French roots are easily overlooked. But Theodore Kerkezos wants you to remember those roots, with this programme ranging from Debussy’s lush soundscape to Paule Maurice’s comedy shorts. 

The Performance Kerkezos makes the classical saxophone sound great – a sprightly, unblemished tone coloured with an excited, balmy vibrato and, obviously, the London Symphony Orchestra play faultlessly. But why do classical composers often struggle to assert their personality through the instrument? Even Debussy’s Rapsodie for saxophone and orchestra, contemporary with La Mer, feels lightweight, and there’s perceptibly more colour in the orchestra than on the saxophone. Schmitt’s Légende and D’Indy’s Choral Varié are picaresque period tone-poems: Kerkezos evokes their atmospherics sympathetically. But Henri Tomasi’s Concerto and Paule Maurice’s Tableaux de Provence hark back to the saxophone’s novelty roots and instantly outstay their welcome. 

The Verdict One for saxophonists – and lovers of French exotica – everywhere, but others will want to be more circumspect. Kerkezos’s earlier Naxos recording (8.557063) of the Debussy, with music by Villa-Lobos, Glazunov, Ibert et al, is an intriguing point of comparison. 

Want More? Around the time Tomasi and Maurice were merely writing for saxophone, jazzman Coleman Hawkins was transforming it – hear what he did on Hawk In The 30s (Naxos 8.120626).