STAR RATING: 4.0 (****)
BBC Music Magazine, Kate Wakeling
Despite its versatility, the saxophone is too often overlooked as a solo instrument. This appealing collection of works pairs original compositions alongside reimagined popular classics in a welcome celebration of this agile and sonorous instrument.
Having won the Commonwealth Musician of the Year and the 2014 Royal Overseas League Annual Music Competition, Huw Wiggin is fast emerging as one of the UK’s star saxophonists.
He brings a keen musical intelligence and a remarkably beautiful sound to these performances, ably accompanied by John Lenehan (piano) and Oliver Wass (harp).
Marcello’s Concerto in D minor (originally for oboe) works splendidly, and Lenehan deftly conjures the crispness of a fortepiano in his accompaniment, while in Manuel de Falla’s 7 Canciones populares españolas Wiggin brings both silk and spice to his vibrant interpretation.
Indeed, the real highlights of the disc are two works originally composed for saxophone and piano: Paule Maurice’s lyrical Tableaux de Provence (1948-55) and Takashi Yoshimatsu’s Sing Bird (1991).
In the latter, the saxophone is scored in a quasi-improvisatory style to soar and wheel, and Wiggin brings dazzling flair and imagination to his performance, providing a notably uplifting close to this enjoyable disc.
THIS IS A LOVELY DISC, COMBINING MUSICIANSHIP WITH IMAGINATION
Star rating: 5.0 (*****)
Planet Hugill, Robert Hugill
It was the recordings of saxophonist John Harle that introduced me to the classical saxophone via a range of borrowed melodies [discs like John Harle’s Saxophone Songbook]. On this disc from Orchid Classics, entitled Reflections, the young saxophone player Huw Wiggin, accompanied by John Lenehan (piano) and by Oliver Wass (harp), presents an eclectic programme of music by Alessandro Marcello, Franz Schubert, Edvard Grieg, Camille Saint-Saens, Claude Debussy, Manuel de Falla, Paule Maurice, Astor Piazzolla, Nikolai Rimsky Korsakov and the contemporary Japanese composer Takashi Yoshimatsu.
Invented by Adolphe Sax in the mid-19th century the saxophone was intended as a classical instrument, it never really caught on in orchestras but its ability to play fast passages like a woodwind instrument yet to project like a brass one led it to be popular in military bands. It does crop up occasionally in 19th-century French opera, such as Ambroise Thomas’ Hamlet and Giacomo Meyerbeer’s Le Prophete, and Debussy wrote for it. But it would be in jazz that the instrument found a real home in the 20th century. Techniques are different, and it requires a real leap to move from the smokey vibrato-led sleaze of the jazz saxophone to the more straight-toned classical style.
Huw Wiggin’s great virtue on this disc is that he makes it sound so natural and obvious.
He plays with a nice fluid tone, the instrument’s combination of reed and keys with a metal body giving a lovely mix of flexibility and edge to the tone. This is a very mobile sound, but one capable of many different incarnations.
I was particularly struck by the Debussy arrangements, Arabesque No. 1 and The Girl with the Flaxen Hair, where Wiggin is partnered by Oliver Wass’s harp. A seemingly unlikely combination that works real magic. Similarly, the ‘Air’ from Grieg’s Holberg Suite gives an entirely different slant to the music and, as with any good transcription, this one reinvents the music brilliantly.
Debussy’s work for saxophone and orchestra is not on this disc, but we do have 20th-century French composer Paule Maurice’s Tableaux de Provence, originally written for saxophone and orchestra between 1948 and 1955 and consisting of five charming pictures of Provencal life.
Though much of the music on the disc is lyrical, Manuel de Falla’s 7 Canciones populares espanolas give us a chance to sample the saxophone’s rhythmic and textural dexterity, something which appears in a different context in the fast outer movements of Alessandro Marcello’s Concerto and Nikolai Rimsky Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumble Bee.
The Debussy pieces apart, John Lenehan accompanies on the piano, providing a sympathetic and imaginative partnership, as well as doing some of the arrangements.
This is a lovely disc, combining musicianship and imagination, and giving us a fascinating glimpse into the world of the classical saxophone.
Classical Reviews, Joe Fuller (Brighton Festival 2015)
Sometimes a concert can be so original, daring & musically dazzling that it takes one’s breath away and reminds us of the potential of live music. Huw Wiggin’s virtuoso saxophone playing was one such occasion. The programme was fascinating, including two stunning pieces from Graham Fitkin: ‘Glass’ was a melancholy number that was beautifully simple, still and moving (featuring subtle piano backing from James Sherlock) whereas ‘Gate’ was a more technically challenging piece that was a rewarding showstopper.
Most memorable however was Andy Scott’s tribute to Esbjorn Svensson: ‘Three Letter Word’. Written with Wiggin in mind, it was melodic, poppy and jazzy; a new but somehow instantly familiar piece with a strut and confidence about it that was invigorating. A magnificent afternoon from a talented, hugely promising musician.
Concert Review | Published 7 May 2015
HENLEY Symphony Orchestra’s ever popular summer concert was presented to a large audience in the grand marquee at Shiplake College on Saturday.
The highlight of the evening was from the soloist, Huw Wiggin, a virtuoso of the saxophone if there ever was one. Huw comes from Henley, was Commonwealth Musician of the Year and amply demonstrated how well he deserves the prizes he has obtained and the plaudits of the musical press.
The concert opened with Elgar’s Cockaigne Overture — a reference to the Arcadian land but describing with affection and no little irony London and its inhabitants; very English of around 1900 and convincingly performed by the excellent string section and the no less excellent brass. A change of scene took us to Russia and the powers of evil in Night on the Bare Mountain, a Mussorgsky depiction of wild revelry of witches and terror culminating in a tamtam stroke which heralds the arrival of the Archfiend.
Relief arrived with the introduction of the soloist, Huw Wiggin and the soprano saxophone to play a Michael Nyman composition, Where the Bee Dances.
This complex work, in which tempo and time signatures seemed to change with every bar, demanded much from the orchestra who responded admirably and the result was curiously highly enjoyable.
The inspiration of the work which the soloist played from memory is the foraging flight of the bee, forever circling, swooping and gathering nectar. But on to more familiar music with the Spanish scene from Bizet’s Carmen Suite No1.
These much-loved and tuneful excerpts were engagingly played and here the fine wind soloists came to the fore.
But back to Huw Wiggin for his second appearance now with alto saxophone for the Debussy Rhapsody, a lovely work, the smooth and liquid tone of the instrument so effective.
We were furthermore treated to an encore, variations on a Carmen theme and demonstrating virtuoso sax playing in spades! I had not believed such fast fingering was possible.
The concert finished with a further change of scene, Tchaikovski’s Marche Slave commemorating 19th century Russian support for Serbia but now a vehicle for the HSO’s splendid horn quartet. This was a varied and innovative programme, thoroughly well played and enjoyed by all who came.
Concert Review | Published 4 Jul 2016
Two supreme performers who treated them to a dazzling display of musicianship, artistry and technical wizardry, the like of which they can only occasionally have encountered.
Westmorland Gazette, Brian Paynes
The Kendal Midday Concert Club has the happy knack – when faced with last-minute changes of artist – of finding replacements of equal professional standing who are significantly much more than mere ‘replacements’. Such was the case recently when the pianist, James Sherlock, due to partner the saxophonist, Huw Wiggin, in an attractive pre-Christmas recital, was indisposed and unable to appear. In his place Huw called upon Somi Kim, a young South Korean lady, who studied in New Zealand, graduating in 2013, won numerous prizes there and, after moving to the UK to study at the Royal Academy and winning further prizes, has become a Park Lane Group Artist. Somi has gained much experience in repetiteuring and is much sought after as a chamber musician and song accompanist.
Thus the Kendal enthusiasts had before them two supreme performers who treated them to a dazzling display of musicianship, artistry and technical wizardry, the like of which they can only occasionally have encountered. They know Huw Wiggin well – three years ago he warmed the cockles of their hearts with an awe-inspiring display of saxophonology. His programme now, as then, largely revolved around arrangements of other composers’ works and how attractive and successful those arrangements are, and how demanding for both players, too!
Huw, be he on Alto or Soprano saxophone, has absolute control over tone quality, wide dynamic ranges, breathing, sensitivity of phrasing, rhythmic security and stylistic authenticity. Iturralde, Piazzolla, Bach, Grieg, Yoshimatsu, Bernstein – their works were all blessed with authoritative, exciting and illuminating performances.
Somi, virtuoso page-turner, the perfect partner and technically stunning was always breathing and phrasing with him and exhibiting an enormous range of colour and tone. Never did she wrongly dominate, her instinct for correct balance being impregnable. Her realisations of two Brahms Intermezzi were just divine.
Rarely does the Club’s audience raise a final rousing cheer – they did on this occasion, and justly so.
Concert Review | Published 18 Dec 2015
“Huw Wiggin’s performance of Bernstein’s “There’s a place for us” played with such sensitivity, I am sure stirred emotions with the beautiful tone, dynamic gradations and spell binding long note values which were perfect in intonation, even in the pianissimo passages – a master class in breath control indeed.”
Cromer Music Evenings presented two very accomplished performers for the last concert of the 2012/13 series who have performed extensively in the UK and overseas, both graduating from prestigious music colleges and both having performed concerts at sea on Cunard and P&O ships all over the world, including Cunard’s famous Ocean Liner Queen Mary 2.
The chosen programme proved to be a delight and seemed to be prepared to introduce composers, apart from Leonard Bernstein and George Gershwin, who were probably unknown to most of the audience. This proved to be so successful as the response to each piece was glorious appreciation in applause.
The well known work Czardas by Vittorio Monti opened the programme, followed by Oblivion, Fugata and Libertango by Astor Piazolla. Then West Side Story Suite by Leonard Bernstein (arr A Brinsford), followed by Scaramouche by Darius Milhaud (the French Composer with whom the great Dave Brubeck studied).
George Gershwin’s Three Preludes (arr by the Russian Shapashnikova) was the first item after the interval – here the 2nd of three was in blues style, slow moving and beautifully phrased with the breath control and tone of the soprano saxophone was so profoundly awe inspiring. The last piece on the programme, The Devil’s Rag by Jean Matitia – here the rapport between the two extremely talented performers was a joy to behold – absolutely brilliant in fact.
To augment the programme, Tim Abel played two piano solos, GriegsWedding Day at Troldhaugen and Death Ray Boogie, the latter bringing spontaneous euphoria to all in the Music Room at Templewood.
Huw Wiggin’s performance of Bernstein’s “There’s a place for us” played with such sensitivity, I am sure stirred emotions with the beautiful tone, dynamic gradations and spell binding long note values which were perfect in intonation, even in the pianissimo passages – a master class in breath control indeed.
The place to be today was Templewood, without doubt!
Concert Review | Published 26 May 2013
Huw Wiggin and James Sherlock’s entertaining platform manner, sparring off each other verbally as well as musically
It’s taken a long time for the classical world to fully embrace the saxophone. Even now the repertoire relies on a disproportionate number of transcriptions – not necessarily a bad thing, but symptomatic of a gap that is still closing.
The one original saxophone piece in the recital by Huw Wiggin and pianist James Sherlock was the opening item, Pedro Iturralde’s Pequeña czarda. The players’ full command of its changing moods was typical of the evening as a whole. Wiggin switched from alto to soprano instrument for two movements from Astor Piazzolla’s Histoire du tango, exploring an impressive dynamic range, and producing a delectable cor anglais-like tone at the bottom of the instrument’s compass.
Baroque music can work surprisingly well on the saxophone. In a transcription of the D minor Oboe Concerto by Alessandro Marcello (still sometimes mis-attributed to his brother, Bendetto) there was magical stillness in the second movement and some nimble playing in the third. In the G minor Flute Sonata, BWV 1020, attributed to JS Bach but now generally thought to be by his son Carl Philipp Emanuel, and drive in the outer movements were balanced by poise and elegance in the middle one.
I was a bit apprehensive as to how Franck’s Violin Sonata would survive transcription for alto sax, but it came out of it rather well. Wiggin and Sherlock expertly balanced the work’s latent passion with the poise of both the opening and the canonic finale.
Huw Wiggin took a break in each half, leaving James Sherlock centre-stage. Liszt’s transcription of ‘Widmung’, the openingnumber of Schumann’s song-cycle Myrthen, was given a soulfulperformance. Introducing Poulenc’s Mélancholie in thesecond half, Sherlock said that in spite of the title it was one ofthe happiest pieces he knew. His playing, though, told a different story, clearly the true one. If Poulenc had hit upon Elgar’s phrase’smiling with a sigh’ this is a piece he would surely have applied it to.
The evening’s success was partly down to Huw Wiggin and James Sherlock’s entertaining platform manner, sparring off each other verbally as well as musically – a style of given its head in François Borne’s virtuoso Fantasie on themes from Carmen. I’ll even let them off starting half-way through it without telling anyone.
Concert Review | Published 15 Feb 2013
“Saxophonist Huw Wiggin had the full measure of the engaging and highly unpredictable variations on a theme of Leonardo da Vinci that are Giles Swayne’s Leonardo’s Dream (2007), with its airborne final stage summoning an appealingly mellifluous tone, then dispatching Michael Berkeley’s Keening (1987) with the appropriate plangent tone. Wiggin gave Two Memorials by Mark-Anthony Turnage – the wistful, even diffident ‘Trier’ (2000) and the more overtly commemorative ‘Memorial’ (1995), displaying a security of intonation not to be taken for granted with the soprano saxophone.”