YOSHIMATSU: Saxophone Concerto---Cyber-bird, Op. 59. Symphony No. 3, Op. 75
Nobuya Sugawa, saxophone; BBC Philharmonic of Manchester, Sachio Fujioka/cond.

Chandos 9737 [F] [DDD]  TT: 68:15

Takashi Yoshimatsu, according to Chandos' program book, is "composer-in-residence," and this is the third disk in a series conducted by Sachio Fujioka, a native of Tokyo born in 1962. Yoshimatsu, from the evidence, is an eclectic composer of markedly French bent in the better of these two pieces---the subtitled Concerto, composed in 1993 as an "homage to a young and powerful evangelist of the saxophone." His Frenchness is not, however, the Debussy-to-Messiaen line of descent that profoundly inspired the music of his late and greatest countryman, Toru Takemitsu.

The concerto's "free jazz-style," for saxophone backed by piano and percussion, harks back to the Prewar-Two jauntiness of Jean Francaix, Jacques Ibert and Darius Milhaud. It is the music of a boulevardier, albeit a visiting one, who has absorbed the idiom and even sauced it lightly with the exotic esprit of Henri Tomasi. Forget the bird allusions---"Bird in Colors," "Bird in Grief," and "Bird in the Wind."

Birds have very big since Vivaldi, down through Respighi, and most recently the self-described ornithologist and mathematician in music, Olivier Messiaen. More than the concerto itself, though, is the virtuosity of Nobuya Sugawa, who can make the saxophone sound like a flute, an oboe d'amore, a B-flat clarinet, even the treble register of a bassoon. I really hate the sound of jazz saxophones with their slow, heavy vibrato and "Moanin' Low" type-casting (almost as much as I loathe the noise of bagpipes, or more recently the sexless tweeting of innumerable flutists, and classical guitars in 18th and 19th century parlor music needing amplification to be heard in larger spaces than a public restroom). Sugawa is a sorcerer who has extended the instrument's possibilities as much as his countryman, Stomu Yamash'ta, expanded the role of solo percussionists a generation ago.

I have pinched myself twice now, to make sure I'm awake and savoring a saxophone concerto with "jazz-trio" accompaniment. It puts me in mind of Takemitsu's very serious answer when someone once asked him who would he like to have been other than himself. He replied "Duke Errington," and meant it!

On the longer but lesser hand (45 minutes vs. the concerto's 23), Symphony No. 3 composed in 1998 has four traditional movements--- the scherzo second, then an Adagio slow movement, and bookend movements with slow introductions before Allegro moltos in sonata-form. Very little of it, however, sounds organic; nothing seems to grow from a seed, or several seeds. It reminded me of Hindemith masquerading as Bruckner, minus the esthetic conviction.

Fujioka is a persuasive advocate, with a very good orchestra that he led as assistant conductor from 1992-95. His kind of exuberant authority seems certain to attract major attention in Europe and the U.S. But now I'd like to hear him conduct Takemitsu---the sublimities of Spirit Garden, or the even-more-exquisite From me flows what you call Time---to get a serious fix on his interpretative gifts. Chandos has the acoustic of New Broadcasting House in Manchester down pat, and the 20-bit recording is a delight to hear.

R.D. (Sept. 1999)