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Delta Saxophone Quartet - Minimal Tendencies (1998)


The Delta Saxophone Quartet was formed in 1984 and is Britain's longest established saxophone group. From the outset the Quartet has sought constantly to expand both the repertoire and presentation of saxophone quartet music, and to this end has collaborated with some of the world's leading composers, including Gavin Bryars, Michael Finnissy, Graham Fitkin, Terry Riley, Mike Westbrook and many others.

Commissioning new material is fundamental to the Quartet's work, and, in addition to working with these and other established composers, the Quartet has also been active in promoting the works of younger composers, and has on several occasions collaborated with the Society for the Promotion of New Music (SPNM) to encourage less familiar names to write for the group. Additionally, the Quartet has introduced many foreign works to British audiences. Notable premieres include 'Facing Death' by Louis Andriessen, a fearsomely difficult saxophone quartet arrangement of his string quartet; 'Night' for soprano and saxophone quartet by Elena Firsova; and several Dutch works by composers such as Klaas de Vries and Geert van Keulen, among many others.

The Quartet has always taken a dynamic, innovative approach to the presentation of their music, extending the natural theatrical boundaries of normal concert performance. For example, in Vinko Globokar's 'Discours V', the concert begins outside the auditorium, with each player circulating among the audience wearing a cassette recorder which plays a series of pre-recorded questions; their collaboration with Mike Westbrook resulted in 'IN A FIX', a 35' piece of instrumental theatre. This constant search for ways of dismantling the static ritual of concert performance is a recurring theme of their work.

The Quartet has performed at several major European festivals and at venues throughout Britain, including the Queen Elizabeth Hall. They have recorded several programmes of contemporary music for the BBC, as well as a number of commercial recordings. For the past 14 years the Delta Saxophone Quartet has been the most innovative and exciting saxophone quartet in Britain, and is now one of the country's brightest and most dynamic contemporary music groups. (glasspages)

An excellent, crystal-clear recording of some of the finest pieces in the so-called minimalist genre, Minimal Tendencies features work by Terry Riley, Steve Reich, Philip Glass, Gavin Bryars, and Michael Nyman. All pieces but one are performed with four saxophones, whether originally scored for them or not. An excerpt from Glass' Mishima film score appears here, originally scored for string quartet. Reich's "New York Counterpoint" was originally scored for clarinets and tape. The performances are flawless and beautiful -- the quartet is a well-oiled machine. Bryars' "Alaric I or II" explores the extended playing techniques of the saxophone itself, notably multiphonics, circular breathing, and playing in the extreme harmonic registers. And it's beautiful music, transcending its potential status as merely a clever exercise. Of particular interest on this recording is Riley's "Tread on the Trail," composed in the mid-'60s but previously unreleased on any recording. For this piece, the quartet followed Riley's directions for the piece, but overdubbed two "quartet" versions of it to make one "octet" piece. This one is by far the most adventurous in terms of tonality -- and it is refreshing to hear his work performed since few of his pieces seem to see the light of recording tape. For aficionados of the minimal genre, this recording is a must-have, for these performers are able to take the music and bring it to a whole new level. For aficionados of the saxophone, this disc is also required listening; this is a satisfying listen on all fronts. (amg)

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