CD Review: Cory Barnfield
Out of this World
Photo credit: Vic Maddox
REVIEWED BY: Dr. Christopher J. Kocher
Dr. Christopher J. Kocher is Professor of saxophone and jazz studies at the University of South Dakota, where he has taught since 1999. Kocher, who is active as both a performer and educator, has an extensive background in both classical and jazz saxophone.
CD: Out of this World
Label: Centaur Recordings
Out of this World
by Dr. Christopher Kocher
Out of This World is the second solo CD to be released by saxophonist Cory Barnfield. A Selmer Paris artist, Barnfield currently teaches at Indiana University Southeast and in the Jefferson County (Kentucky) Public School System. He has performed frequently with the Louisville Orchestra and Kentucky Opera, and he has an impressive list of performances at international conferences. I was eager to listen to this new recording, as I was intrigued by the works included. Barnfield has selected an excellent program consisting of new works, standard repertory, and lesser-known gems.
The opening track is Shadows of Paris by Peter Felice, commissioned by Barnfield for this CD. The composition is a tribute to the victims of the Paris terrorist attacks that occurred on November 13, 2015. The somewhat programmatic work is meant to convey the emotions of longing for those lost in the attack. A slow, minor theme played by the alto saxophone opens the piece. The modal nature of the melody and Barnfield’s beautiful tone and vibrato create an introspective mood. The piano enters with superb intonation from the saxophone, and chromaticism is gradually introduced to the melodic lines. The musicians’ phrasing and direction are extremely musical, making for a very moving performance. Barnfield displays great control in the altissimo register. There are numerous melodic lines that extend into the saxophone’s extended range, and the tone and expressiveness are always present. The work becomes driving, rhythmic, and forceful, perhaps intending to express musically the attack that occurred at the Bataclan Theatre in Paris. Growling and harsh articulations in the saxophone and heavy, percussive attacks in the piano contribute to this feel. Eventually this section gives way to a section of melodic beauty, and the piece concludes with a return of the minor modal opening.
Following this excellent new work for saxophone is one from the standard repertory, Le Lièvre et la Tortue (1957) by Pierre Max Dubois. The performance begins with Barnfield’s beautiful, pure tone. His expressive use of vibrato is on display here: he begins with a wonderfully controlled straight tone and gradually adds vibrato expressively to convey the changing intensity of the music. His register control is impressive, easily negotiating the wide intervals of the melody. There is excellent ensemble between the saxophone and piano in the lively section, with the musicians perfectly matching playful attacks and bringing great energy to their playing. I really enjoyed the contrast within the performance, with a wide range of dynamics and articulations, from light to more percussive and very short.
Ida Gotkovsky’s Variations Pathetiques, composed in 1983, covers a wide range of tempos, styles, and moods in its six movements. The work begins with an intense opening movement, Declamando con passione. It features some cadenza-like passages for solo saxophone, where Barnfield shows excellent musical pacing by varying his tempo and dynamics. He uses his colorful tone very expressively, ending the movement with extremely soft dynamics, almost a subtone. The next movement, Prestissimo – Leggierissimo, is a virtuosic movement for the performers, with superbly played rapid, slurred lines as well as fast articulated passages. The Lento – Rubato movement provides a nice contrast in terms of melody, tempo, and style. The fourth movement, Rapido, features rapid triplet lines in almost perpetual motion, perhaps a nod to Bozza’s Caprice. After this impressive technical display, Barnfield shows off his musicality in Con simplicita – anima, the most lyrical movement of the work. The liner notes state, “The final variation, Prestissimo con fuoco, is described by Gotkovsky as a whirlwind of fire.” This exciting and climactic movement includes a great cadenza for the saxophone.
Out of This World for alto saxophone, violincello, and piano was composed in 2013 by David Maslanka. It was a commission by the Three Rivers New Music Consortium, of which Barnfield is a member. The CD notes include a quote from Maslanka which states that the work is about “sacred mystery embodied in symbols, powerful symbols such as the cross, images of birth and death, mother, father – music.” The melodic and Romantic nature of the work is a beautiful representation of Maslanka’s compositional style. Perhaps the most notable and striking aspect of this work to me were the unison lines shared by the saxophone and cello. At times in the same octave but elsewhere with the cello an octave higher or lower than the saxophone, a very unique texture is created by the composer, unlike any other I have heard. The effect is very striking and moving. Barnfield and cellist Paul York blend beautifully with excellent intonation. The composition ends very softly and introspectively. Maslanka passed away in 2017, not long after this CD was recorded, and the performance of this piece is a fitting tribute.
The music of Eugène Bozza is well known to saxophonists, but Prelude et Divertissement (1960) is perhaps lesser known than some of his other compositions. With an exotic, Spanish-tinged opening, a saxophone cadenza, and a lively and virtuosic final section, it is the perfect closer for this CD.
Like a good recital, Cory Barnfield’s Out of This World satisfies the listener with a highly enjoyable program of music, both new and venerable. With a beautiful tone, impressive technical control, and musicality, Barnfield’s artistry is well-represented on this recording.