Catch Me If You Can. Music for saxophone and orchestra

Amy Dickson alto saxophone, Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Benjamin Northey conductor
Classical, New Music, Uncategorized
ABC Classics 481 0118
Reviewed by , April 25th, 2014

Every so often there are musicians who seem to have been born to play a particular instrument, and one of them is undoubtedly Amy Dickson. Here is a refreshingly different and fascinating disc, featuring a young saxophonist who has achieved admirable success here and overseas for her technical skill and fine musicality, three works which explore the range and expressiveness of the instrument, and firm orchestral direction under the guidance of the Australian conductor Benjamin Northey.

There are three contrasted works on offer. First, the Escapades for alto saxophone and orchestra of Hollywood film-music master John Williams, the title conjuring up images of freedom and adventure, qualities well-suited to this composer’s flexible and versatile compositional style. This basically tonal, three-movement work presents two rhythmically-driven sections framing a more ruminative central episode, beguiling in its improvisatory manner.

Then the Concerto for Saxophone by the American Michael Kamen (1948-2003) – a name previously unknown to me – who made his mark primarily as a composer for films, but also as an orchestral conductor and arranger. The most substantial work here (almost a half-hour) was something of a revelation: a fascinating mix of various sound-worlds and styles, with long seamless melodic lines, jazz-like inflections, its truly evocative atmosphere sometimes giving an overall impression of an extended cadenza, especially in the central second movement, which prefaces a largely motoric finale.

Amy Dickson. Photo:  Christopher Dunlop

Amy Dickson. Photo: Christopher Dunlop

Finally, the Australian composer Mark Knopfler, whose Local Hero Saxophone Concerto could almost be described as a Jazz Suite for Saxophone and Orchestra. The reason for the title is not explained, but its eclectic four movements bear programmatic sub-titles (‘Mist Covered Mountains’, ‘Smooching’, ‘Boomtown’ and ‘Coming Home’) which indicate the basic moods of the music. The first movement has faint jazz echoes by using prominent bass and cymbal parts, the second is similar in atmosphere, and the last two employ a jazz combo. The final section exhibits a strangely Scottish atmosphere.

I cannot stress too highly the impressive qualities demonstrated by Amy Dickson. She has complete control of her instrument; her playing can be by turns forceful, gentle, dramatic, lyrical, passionate, sensual and beguiling; her phrasing is always expressive and thoughtful, her musical purpose clear and successfully achieved; and she is able to carry out the true intentions of the various creators represented here. Playing of this calibre is rare, and deserves admiration and respect. Benjamin Northey emerges as a worthy collaborator, presiding over the capable and sensitive playing of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. There are informative and engagingly personal program annotations by the soloist. Although some of this music might be well utilised as film sound-tracks, these works can generally stand alone. My only reservation is that it would have been helpful for the booklet to provide more detailed information about the composers and their output (including the works featured here).

Highly recommended.

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