ALBUM TITLE: Collection: John Harle’s Saxophone Songbook
WORKS: Vocalise, Op. 34/14; Melodies, Op. 35/1, 3 & 5; Ariel Songs; N’aroit autre depart
PERFORMER: John Harle (saxophones), John Lenehan (harpsichord, piano), Sarah Leonard (soprano)
CATALOGUE NO: DKP(CD) 9160 DDD
Singers sometimes venture into the wordless, quasi-instrumental genre of the vocalise, so why shouldn’t an instrumentalist tackle some songs without their words?
In this collection, drawing on everything from Rachmaninov and Prokofiev (genuine vocalises, these), right back to Guillaume de Machaut, and forward to Stanley Myers and Michael Nyman, that’s just what John Harle does.
His strengths are his formidable technique (the endless, soulful phrases he encompasses in the Rachmaninov are remarkable) and variety of tone – but here the recording lets him down, bringing the saxophone too close for comfort and recessing the piano; overall it’s dull and claustrophobic.
I think Michael Nyman’s postmodern effusions a waste of space (even guest high soprano Sarah Leonard is defeated by the maladroit vocal writing of his Ariel Songs). Genuinely rich and strange, on the other hand, is Dinah and Nick’s Love Song, a typically Birtwistlian miniature.
Other highlights are Harle’s haunted, haunting tone in Myers’s Voyager, and the melancholy airs by Elizabethan songwriter John Dowland, which find in the late-night loneliness of the sax a strangely congenial voice. Here accompanist John Lenehan takes to the harpsichord, creating a piquant combination. Very Peter Greenaway. George Hall