The Blenheim Music Circle’s Concert Series

David Shavreen reviews Amy Dickson (saxophone) and Catherine Milledge (piano)

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Blenheim Concerts

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The next concert in this 20th Anniversary Year will be given at 3.30 p.m. on Sunday, 16th September, in the Chiswick Catholic Centre, 2 Duke’s Avenue, W4 by Octanphonie (an ensemble of eight musicians playing oboes, clarinets, French horns and bassoons) who will play Hummel's Octet Partita In E flat, a new composition by local composer John Carmichael entitled “On the Green”, and an arrangement of Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition”.

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On Sunday 15th July the concert was given by Amy Dickson (saxophone) and Catherine Milledge (piano), an exciting duo. The saxophone has an interesting history, having been created In Brussels by Adolphe Saxin 1846, speedily adopted by French military bands, but really coming into its own in the First World War when it was taken up by the Americans where it soon became the best known of all instruments by those who frequented dance halls and liked music with their meals.

A hybrid instrument, combining elements of the oboe and the clarinet with a tube of brass, it can be pastoral or elegiac, cheeky and rowdy, elegant and sophisticated. All these aspects were covered in the wide-ranging programme offered by these two musicians who gave us music for both the soprano and alto members of the family.

In the first half of the programme we had two jazz-inspired pieces, “Scaramouche” by Darius Milhaud - a lively, tuneful, cheeky piece with strong rhythms and cheerful melodies - and three Preludes by George Gershwin combining the exciting syncopations of the early jazz idiom with the echo of the Kletzmer bands that celebrated weddings and bar-mitzvahs in Eastern Europe.

In between there was contemporary music, with Its free-flowing patterns and challenging tonalities, by Cecilia McDowall and Mark-Anthony Turnage, the one celebrating the intimate chamber tradition of past masters, the other lamenting the loss of loved ones, an eloquent expression of sorrow and rage employing the full range of the saxophone and the percussive resources of the accompanying piano.

The next half of the programme was a pot-pourri in which pianist and saxophonist exhibited their resources in pieces which ranged across the repertoire from ancient to modern, in witty conversation, in dramatic argument, and in romantic interplay — all of this with a technique which left us gasping with admiration. Nothing is so hard as to make difficult tasks appear easy, and the music flowed backward and forward in what seemed an endless stream in which breath and fingers performed their magical ministrations without effort. Enjoyment was thus shared between performers and audience. Altogether a most enjoyable afternoon provided by two dedicated artists.

David Shavreen

July 27, 2007

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