If John Tavener's The Protecting Veil for soprano saxophone may not warm the hearts of many purists, Amy Dickson makes a convincing case for it on this wonderfully lithe and vivacious disc. The talented Australian has been raising eyebrows since her debut disc "Smile" (RCA, 8/08) but this recording is a decidedly more serious affair.
Tavener's work is not the only one to receive a sax makeover. Philip Glass's Violin Concerto - one of his first forays into standard orchestral music - translates more or less note-for-note, give or take a few out-of-range pitches and triple-stops. A low-key opening movement gives way to a darker and more unsettling second section. Dickson's playing really takes off in the third, however, where her effortless articulation of Glass's trademark arpeggio figures finally gives way to a hauntingly evoked melody in the coda.
Tavener's work provides the centrepiece, however. Dickson's sustained saxophone soars high above the orchestra for extended periods - maintained by impressively controlled circular breathing - illuminating the carpet of string sound lying below.
Nyman's Where the Bee Dances is the only bona fide saxophone concerto on display here, and it does lie on the whole more comfortably within the instrument's range. Aided by Mikel Tom's unfussy and unobtrusive direction, this is a more measured performance than Harle's exuberant original recording (Argo, 7/92 - nla) but the closing section does allow Dickson room to explore the instrument's edgier side. Often derided as the saccharine sister of the saxophone family, Dickson's impressive playing bears witness to the instrument's hidden depth, breadth and versatility. Highly recommended.
Pwyll ap Sion, Gramophone Magazine, 3/1/2010
Amy Dickson plays superbly, with great feeling…Although written for violin, Glass’s Concerto sounds very comfortable in the saxophone version. Dickson plays both this and Nyman’s Bee piece with verve and a keen edge.
Performance: [four stars]
Recording: [four stars]
Barry Witherden, BBC Music Magazine, 4/1/2010