Alexander Glazunov: Saxophone Concerto
Premiered in Sweden in November 1934, with Sigurd Raschèr as the soloist, Alexander Glazunov’s Saxophone Concerto is a staple in saxophone repertory. It is nearly certain that Glazunov did not hear the concerto in a public performance, as he passed two years later in 1936. He wrote a piano reduction score for the concerto, which is performed with Raschèr on a number of occasions during the composition process.
The concerto really stood out at the time as the saxophone was not yet a regular instrument in orchestral repertory. Glazunov however enjoyed the timbre and tone of the instrument against the rich string section, hence why the concerto is written specifically for a string orchestra. The composer’s much-loved orchestral style sings through during the concerto, with rich textures, memorable melodies and colourful harmonies laced throughout.
Performed in one big movement lasting around 15 minutes, the concerto opens with the strings playing the opening main theme. The soloist enters and plays a version of the melody. The rich sound of the saxophone here goes hand in hand with Glazunov’s rich texture within the strings. The music begins to gain traction after a number of musical themes are played through. The saxophone part becomes more virtuosic as time goes on, with fast scalic passages and difficult interval jumps driving the theme forward. This opening section is largely set in G minor, with the contrasting slower central section being based in Cb major.
The slow section mixes virtuosic lines from the soloist with broad elongated lyrical themes from the strings. The ebb and flow of dynamics creates a wash of sound that is rich in tonal colour and bold in presentation. Glazunov’s Russian orchestral style is challenged during this section, with quick tempo changes that resolve back to the slow tempo adding excitement to the music. This section leads to a highly virtuosic cadenza for the soloist. The quick pace and intricate writing of the cadenza leads to the very quick Fugato section, which is typical of Glazunov’s style.
As the excitement and intensity builds, Glazunov introduces some intricate syncopated rhythms that bounce between the voices within the orchestra. The soloist leads with the melody, with fragments being passed to different voices in the strings. A quick revert back to a slower tempo leads the music in a climactic section where the saxophone hits some high notes. As the coda is set up by Glazunov during the last minute of the piece, the soloist pushes the tempo as a call and response figure plays out. The concerto ends with an exciting resolution as the saxophone squeaks one last note out before the strings finish.
Ⓒ Alex Burns