By Lois Hicks-Wozniak
From the opening middle A, emerging enshrouded from the silence, you know GRAMMY-award winning, renowned concert saxophonist, Timothy McAllister, is about to give a lesson in unparalleled control and lyricism, with a masterclass soon to come in matchless rhythm and internal tempo within thick syncopation. This is the experience of listening to Rush ,Concerto for Alto saxophone and Orchestra by Kenneth Fuchs, his fifth recording with the London Symphony Orchestra and conductor, JoAnn Falletta; featuring McAllister, alto saxophone, on the Naxos American Classics label. Rush , a relatively new concerto, a commission by Ryan Janus and a consortium of thirty-seven saxophonists and ensembles, was composed in 2012 and conceived as dual versions for both orchestra and wind band. Wind ensemble and orchestra performances soon followed with an excellent recording released in 2017 by the United States Coast Guard Band with MUC Greg Case, saxophone.
The work is through-composed, beginning with an extended cadenza in which the orchestra gradually emerges into a slower Adagio section which highlights McAllister’s elegant and opalescent phrases, singing and soaring above and below the atmospheric, translucent layers of the orchestra. Subtle, delicate portamentos hint of the forthcoming transition into the jazz-inspired second movement. It is striking the various moments throughout that McAllister weaves and blends within and out front of the orchestra, demonstrating the prismatic nature of the saxophone. Following a beautiful second cadenza, a Gershwin-esque glissando in the saxophone, which alludes to and even surpasses a familiar rhapsodic clarinet gesture, reveals the second movement Passacaglia theme in the saxophone atop “walking bass lines.” This adroit suggestion of the jazz inspiration to which Fuchs refers in notes and interviews, is further expressed in the extreme syncopation and rhythmic pointillism that follows throughout several variations upon the theme, with various moments of call-and-response between the saxophone and orchestra. With hints of Bernstein, Fuchs’ use of bongos and tambourine, while perhaps more at home in a wind ensemble setting, never becomes cliché nor does the saxophone become a trope in this common jazz-like narrative. McAllister comfortably communicates the flow between concert and jazz saxophone, alternating between electrifyingly rapid scale-ular and arpeggiated sections with sparse, expertly voiced and syncopated lines, that never once diminish or falter in tempo. Fallata’s leadership and command of the style is further demonstrated in the orchestra performing at home in these jazz-inspired, angular phrases, as well. The work drives to the end, perhaps that is the “rush”, as the saxophone, in descending and ascending sequences, is juxtaposed by the orchestra in exciting, thick “big band” chordal hits with falls. Finally, a brief codetta mostly in unison with much of the orchestra, finishes in a flurry with a final glissando to a brilliant high C. If one watches the accompanying video to the recording session, available on Fuch’s website, it is easy to imagine or interpolate the sound of the orchestra members exclaiming at the end, as the excitement is palpable.
Timothy McAllister never “rushes” in his phrasing and one should not “rush” to label Fuchs, now considered a leading American composer, a strictly wind band or orchestra composer, as he his clearly comfortable in many idioms. You should “rush” to obtain this recent Naxos recording of the London Symphony. “Rush” to listen to not only Fuch’s Rush b ut also the remaining concerti on this recent GRAMMY-nominated album: Piano Concerto , ‘Spiritualist;’Poems of Life f or Countertenor and Orchestra and Glacier, Concerto for Electric guitar, featuring composer and performer, D.J. Sparr, among others. Instead, slowly savor this new and vibrant concerto for saxophone, and then look for future performances this year (2019) in both the orchestral and wind band versions.