Norman Lebrecht’s CD of the Week – The Coral Sea
The Coral Sea
Every now and then a record announces from the opening spin that you’re in for a really good time. Six works by five living British composers for soprano saxophone hardly sounds like an invitation to the dance, but the moment Sue McKenzie blows up the weird Caledonian wail of Gabriel Jackson’s title piece you just want to sit back and sip the smoky malt.
Sue plays the sweetest, most serene soprano sax you will ever hear outside a jazz den. She is piloted through uncharted waters by Ingrid Sawers, piano. The Coral Sea sounds like it ought to: limitless, enchanting and implacable. Jackson, chiefly a choral composer, finds an almost-human timbre in the soprano sax and makes it sing and keen for all it’s worth.
Graham Fitkin’s two pieces have a Mersey-like murk, somehow gloomy and yet a bit giggly at the same time. Nikki Iles, a composer I had never heard before, makes the sax sing nightclub languid and low in a piece called Alma Venus. Two Memorials by Mark-Anthony Turnage are too short by half, gone before they’ve broken the surface. But the concluding Allegrasco by Gavin Bryars is a world entire, a story that invents its own time and makes the second malt absolutely mandatory.
The soprano sax is, unlike the operatic category, two sizes smaller than a tenor. It doesn’t sound that way. If you only buy one saxophone record this year, make this the one.
Three extraordinary pianists
A classical pianist who has played at Carnegie Hall, Cezara last year won the public prize at the Montreux Jazz Competition. Her debut album, privately produced but available through all online outlets, takes teasing fragments of classical works and turns them into jazz meditations. The ear is taken in a single phrase from Bach to Chopin to Schumann to Cezara and the journey is altogether enchanting. This pianist demands to be heard live.
The youngest-ever finalist in the Warsaw Chopin competition, Sageman plays the Polonaises in mid-life as if they are her life’s purpose. Gone is the competitor’s showiness. What we hear is a mind and a set of fingers plunging ever deeper into Chopin’s textures in search of an elusive truth. Set beside recent showboaters, this is Chopin from the source.
No grandmother pianist has sounded so curious and clear-sighted as Pires does in this ear-opening pair of two Schubert sonatas (D845 and D960). Just when you think you know all that can be done with these mine-shafts of introspection, Pires inserts a dimension of surprise and wisdom that will make you rethink everything you thought you knew about the music.
Norman Lebrecht is a regular presenter on BBC Radio 3 and a contributor to the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg and other publications. He has written 12 books about music, the most recent being Why Mahler? He hosts the blog Slipped Disc.