Kyle Horch & Pianists Play “Fairy Tales”

Fairy Tales cover image (high res) 216.7mm 2560px

TCHEREPNIN: Sonatine Supportive.1 PROKOFIEV: Cinq melodies (arr. Horch).1 TUBIN: Sonate für Alt-Saxophon und Klavier.1 MARKOVICH: Complainte et Danse.1 KŌRVITS: Wings.1 BALSYS: Eglé, Queen of the Serpents: 3 fragments (arr. Mikiška).2 HERDZIN: Fairytale Stories 2 / Kyle Horch, a-sax/s-sax; 1Yshani Perinpanayagam, 2Anta Fadina, pno / Norwood Recordings NR202101

Here is definitely something new under the sun: American classical saxist Kyle Horch playing a program of music by Eastern Europeans, some from the “polyglot Paris period” of the late 1910s through the 1920s. The only really well-known name here is Serge Prokofiev, with Alexander Tcherepnin and Eduardas Balsys also having a certain vogue nowadays. The other composers include names completely new to me: Eduard Tubin, Ivan Markovich, Tōnu Kōvits and Krzysztof Herdzin (who?).

And not surprisingly, some of these works definitely have a jazz influence—at least, the European concept of 1920s jazz, which was still close to ragtime. This is immediately evident in Tcherepnin’s Sonatine Supportive, with its first movement sporting syncopated (and sometimes bluesy) figures over an ostinato rhythm played by the pianist. The slow second movement is definitely more classical in feel—apparently, Tcherepnin either never had the blues or never heard them—while the third movement features opposing rhythms played by the two musicians that conflict with each other but are not jazzy at all.

Originally written as “Songs Without Words” for soprano in the manner of Rachmaninov’s Vocalise, Prokofiev’s Cinq melodies are generally performed in the composer’s instrumental arrangement for violin and piano, but they also work very well on the alto saxophone. My only complaint about Horch’s playing is that he seldom uses graded dynamics, and his tone is uniformly the same from note to note, phrase to phrase and piece to piece, a sort of cold, impersonal way of playing the saxophone to be sure. He could have at least taken a few tips from the late Lee Konitz on how to play with a pure, vibratoless tone but also with more expression, although he does a credible job on the third of these pieces.

Eduard Tubin’s music comes from a slightly later period, the 1930s, after he had studied with Zoltan Kodály, and his Saxophone Sonata clearly shows the older composer’s influence. It’s a very interesting piece in which both the saxophone and piano parts sound very normal and tonal, but since both are in slightly different keys they produce a bitonal effect when put together. And oddly enough, the latter part of the first movement includes some syncopations similar to a Charleston beat. The third movement, an “Allegro vivace,” is played in a fairly straight classical 4/4 with the piano part being comprised largely of ostinato chords.

Ivan Markovich also comes from a later period, having been born in 1929 and not coming into his own until the early 1960s. This is very “cool” music, slightly modern in harmony but not any more so than the works of Prokofiev or Tubin. This sonata, in fact, was written in 1964 and dedicated to French saxophonist Jean-Marie Londeix. The music has something of the flavor of Eastern European folk music, but with some very definite classical flourishes added to the ends of phrases and sections. By contrast, Kōrvits’ Wings is a slow, lyrical, atmospheric work, somewhat akin to Szymanowski’s Masques.

The excerpts from Eduardo Balsys’ ballet Égle are light, charming music, played here on the soprano saxophone. We end with the Fairytale Stories of modern Polish composer Krzysztof Herdzin; though also a jazz pianist, the first two pieces have no jazz feel to them, although the final “Con bravura” does in the past passages, but are still very interesting, atmospheric works.

A very fine recital overall with some real high points among the various pieces presented.

—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley

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