Kenari Quartet: French Saxophone Quartets


This fun album features pieces that used what was still a relatively new-fangled instrument in the classical form. The sax was invented in 1846 by the eponymous Mr Sax, and the pieces on here (from Dubois, Pierné, Françaix, Desenclos, Bozza and Schmitt) were written in the early to mid-20th century.

French composers apparently went mad for the saxophone, an instrument that epitomised Paris’s lively nightlife, and composed pieces with wit, dash and humour that combined the classical approach with jazz. (Today’s useless fact: the man who coined the phrase ragtime, Ernest Hogan, got the name from his home town, “Shake Rag” in Bowling Green, Kentucky, a town recently in the news for its made-up terrorist attack).

Forget parping sax solos, though; this is the sax used as a brass instrument, so the music is closer to that of a brass band than a jazz outfit.

The earliest piece on here is Jean Francaix’s Petit Quatuor Pour Saxophones, from 1935. The latest is from Alfred Desenclos, 1964’s Quatuor Pour Saxophones.

Though there are moments of solemnity, it’s mostly playful, with a real sense of fun for most of the album. It also sounds pretty cool, never staid but never getting close to a film-score type cliché of jolly brass music. There seem to be references to other famous classical works in places. It’s entertaining, though in places it can slip into the background a little.

Out on Naxos, 8.573549.


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