Friday, 2 May 2014

Revisited album review; Marcel mule, le patron of the saxophone

Listening to this album now it is reminiscent of an era long since gone, a hail to the past and yet still a pinnacle album for classical saxophonists.
Although only being released just over ten years ago the album features recordings done in the early twentieth century by the ‘father’ of the saxophone Marcel Mule. Today classical saxophone has developed hugely in the way we approach it and the style we play diverging from the old romantics such as Mule and Rascher. However some aspects of Mules playing are still mirrored today and the impact he had on the saxophone and its potential was astounding.
The saxophone was originally designed by Adolphe Sax as instrument to play in ensembles to bridge the gap between the brass section and the upper woodwind the fact that it could be a solo instrument was not really taken seriously until Marcel Mule. Mule’s playing style and ability to understand the instrument led him to a hugely prosperous career and opened up a huge amount of possibilities for saxophone players. Whenever classical saxophonists use Vibrato today, although it is used less frequently than in the past, it is still a homage to Mr Mule. In the saxophones humble beginnings a straight tone was used which meant no vibrato, but thanks to Mules exposure to Jazz music and the players use of vibrato he developed a use of vibrato for the classical saxophone and one one which we still use today, even if it is not as excessive as on mules recordings.   

The album opens with an arrangement of Jean Phillipe Rameau’s Gavotte for violin. Mules assured tone at the beginning sets the theme for the rest of the album. Although the saxophone and the violin are far from similar Mule’s tone has a certain subtlety and delicacy which is similar to the violin recordings of this piece.  The first note has strength to it and leads the piece in beautifully. The dynamics are perfect and the ends of phrases are well directed with the saxophonist and pianist follow each other well with expert precision.

The album continues with mules own arrangement of Roelens Pavanne et menuet vif. A beautiful arrangement mule shows off his fluency on the saxophone with his fast runs neatly executed with a precision only a master could show. One thing that really strikes me about mules playing on all of these recordings is his impeccable intonation. Playing in a time when the saxophone was relatively new and the design was not nearly as advanced as the saxophones we play on today, Mules tone never waivers nor does his intonation.

The album features a lot of arrangements either by Marcel Mule or for him, this is due to the nature of the saxophone in the classical field and as Mule was a turning point for the saxophone as a solo instrument there wasn’t a huge amount of ‘good’ solo repertoire available to him. Fortunately throughout his life Marcel Mule had a number of works commissioned by him or dedicated to him from highly influential composers. One such composer that had a hugely beneficial outcome for both Mule and the classical saxophone was Eugene Bozza. This album features two works by Bozza; andante et scherzo (for saxophone quartet) and concertino (for saxophone and piano). Andante et scherzo is still a standard for saxophone quartet today but in the time of Mule marked a big step towards saxophone chamber music. The piece opens with a well-phrased tenor saxophone who sings the line and creates a tender opening to the work. As the piece progresses you hear well controlled entries from all the players each player giving meaning to every note and never throwing away the end of the phrase. This all builds up to a incredibly fast second movement which in my opinion is subjected to some heavy tonguing in the lower section but with this aside is an exciting and climactic finish. It is interesting to hear the work played by performers who would have no doubt worked with the composer.

The album not only featuring solo and small chamber ensembles works also features one of the earliest recordings of a pinnacle work for the saxophone and orchestra. The Ibert Concertino de Camera is regarded as a virtuosic piece for the saxophone and although other concerto’s for the saxophone, such as the Glazunov, Concertino de Camera for me is the pinnacle concerto for showing off the saxophones ability as a classical instrument. Mule’s recording showcases his true virtuosity although for me the work is not the same without the altissimo passages. Mule at the time could not play in the altissimo register which is a true shame as with the altissimo passages this recording for me would be perfect.

Overall this album is fantastic and it is great to every now and then revert back to listening to the ‘original’ classical saxophonists to know how far the classical saxophone has developed in such a short space of time.