Manmade; Windless; Every Little Step; A Day in the Sparrow’s Life
Marius Neset (saxophone); Bergen Philharmonic/Edward Gardner
Chandos CHSA 5298 (CD/SACD) 65:36 mins
One of the problems with concertante works for saxophone, observes Mervyn Cooke in the notes to Manmade, is that ‘the instrument is so immediately associated with jazz rather than the classical concert music for which it was originally invented.’ (It’s a on-going issue: only last month a piece I’d filed with another publication was subbed so that Jess Gillam’s Wigmore Hall recital was labelled ‘jazz’.) The Norwegian saxophonist Marius Neset’s music spans multiple genres but is rooted in contemporary classical music; Manmade comprises a selection of his latest works, all of which are first recordings.
The title work takes its lead from the climate crisis, with each of its five movements alluding to human innovation and its contribution to the current global challenge. Highly rhythmic as well as richly orchestrated, there are moments when Manmade feels like a collaboration between Reich, Adams and Ives (Apollo includes a reference to The Unanswered Question). Neset is a glittering soloist throughout, tightly supported by his compatriots the Bergen Philharmonic under Edward Gardner.
Every Little Step – the composer’s reflection on lockdown with his infant daughter – juggles cross-rhythms, modulating time signatures and, in the second movement, the sense of maintaining pulse among chaos. (There are subtle references to late Lennon/McCartney here – timely with the release of The Beatles: Get Back on Disney Plus.) A Day in the Sparrow’s Life is a joyful and sometimes abstract (think Richard Rodney Bennett) piece that began life as a solo work. The rather aimless and saccharine Windless unfortunately lets down this otherwise excellent collection.