Sunday, 9 May 2010

Understanding the Glazunov Saxophone Quartet

It has taken me quite the time to grasp the essence of the Glazunov Saxophone Quartet, and although each time I get to work on it I feel I'm getting closer to it I also think there's more to be learned.

One of the main hurdles is the sheer length of the piece. For a string quartet a length of 20-30 minutes is perhaps a pretty average length, but for saxophone quartets (or any other small wind ensemble)- who are constantly challenged to synchronize their breathing with the phrasing of their musical lines - this becomes a serious matter of endurance. And the fact that Glazunov uses such a dense way of writing (much like he does in his string quartets) doesn't help much either.

But there are other "problems" too. A major one (although easy to fix) is the poor quality of the individual parts, and I therefore want to warn anyone who is planning to work on this quartet to do "first things first": make sure to add the many missing dynamics, articulations, accidentals etc. from the main score to the individual parts. This will clear up much confusion and speed up your rehearsals substantially.

There are several recordings that have really helped me understand this work better. Here are three that I can recommend:

- Habanera Quartet (France, 2004)
- Aurelia Quartet (Netherlands)
- Rascher Quartet (USA)

That's it for now, but there are likely more discoveries to be made as we get closer to our Vis-a-Vis June 5th performance at Uvic, Victoria.

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