BY ANGUS MCPHERSON
Glebe Justice Centre, 23 May 2015
It is always refreshing to see a concert where the most venerable composers on the program are Jacques Ibert and György Ligeti. Amongst tealight candles, wine bottles and chocolate leather couches in the Glebe Justice Centre, Petrichor Sax presented a bold, entertaining program of works for sax ensemble featuring the world premieres of two new works by Australian composers.
Petrichor opened the evening with an energetic and precise performance of Ligeti’s ‘Six Bagatelles’, performing the spirited first, third, fourth and sixth movements in an arrangement for saxophone quartet by Fabien Oehrli. Mary Osborn’s clean soprano saxophone sound glided smoothly over the bubbling lower parts in the third bagatelle and Laura Andrew’s nimble baritone playing was a highlight of the fourth. The decision to omit the darker slow movements robbed the piece of some of its depth, but this was nonetheless a vibrant, upbeat start to a great concert.
The first world premiere on the program, Elizabeth Jigalin’s ‘popcorn convection.’, took its name from a meteorological phenomenon: ‘showers and thunderstorms that form on a scattered basis with little or no apparent organisation’. Petrichor performed from join-the-dots graphic scores (the musicians had joined their dots earlier in the rehearsal process), in a composition that was both effectively evocative and elegantly structured. Jigalin’s piece began with notes scattered like raindrops, seemingly at random, with rivulets of sound trickling and cascading through the ensemble. The players made effortless transitions between passages of ‘random’ notes and precisely synchronised ensemble work. The ending was calm and expansive – storm clouds rolling out to trouble another vista.
Guest artist David Gioia joined Petrichor to perform the premiere of his own arrangement of Jacques Ibert’s ‘Concertino da Camera’ for solo alto saxophone and saxophone quartet. The new instrumentation was particularly successful in the fast outer movements, and Gioia was an impressive soloist; his playing was polished and extroverted, his unique tone cutting through clearly so there was never any chance of being overwhelmed by the ensemble. Though undoubtedly the soloist, Gioia’s rapport with Petrichor was that of a chamber musician – very much part of the ensemble, whose members played with sensitivity and their own share of technical fireworks.
Following the interval, Alice Morgan joined Osborn on stage for ‘nga manu’ (the birds), a soprano saxophone duet by New Zealand composer Michael Jamieson. Morgan and Osborn were a perfectly matched pair, their tones blending seamlessly and both players displaying a remarkably uniform delicacy in their execution of the microtonal trills and avian flourishes that represented the Kea, Tui, Ruru, Piwakawaka. Philippe Geiss’ ‘Patchwork’ for saxophone quartet was a clear crowd pleaser, with its nods to minimalism and jazz. The percussive vocals drew enthusiastic applauds well before the final notes.
Michael Paton’s ‘Kaneshie’, another world premiere, was inspired by a traditional Ghanaian tribal song and tro-tro (bus) station of the same name. Driving African rhythms were interspersed with moments of tranquillity in a fresh, lively performance. The evening ended peacefully with Philip Glass’ ‘The Windcatcher’, the entire ensemble taking the stage, Gioia joining on soprano saxophone.
Petrichor has announced that they will perform at the World Saxophone Congress and Festival in Strasburg, France in July . It will be very exciting to see where this talented ensemble goes from here.