By Brian Kauth
Diane Hunger’s (www.dianehunger.com) first solo recording, Deviations, is a departure from her regular activities working with contemporary composers and commissioning new music. Instead she borrowed two masterworks from the Romantic period by Robert Schumann and Johannes Brahms and adapted them for the tenor saxophone, “deviating” from their original instrumentations. Maurice Whitney’s Introduction and Sambafor alto saxophone and piano, composed for saxophone virtuoso Sigurd Raschèr, rounds off this program of stellar performances.
The first thing that one encounters when listening to these performances is the high quality of the audio recording. Produced by Mark Records of Clarence, New York (www.markcustom.com), and engineered by owner Mark J. Morette, the sound quality is of the highest caliber. The music was recorded at the State University of New York at Fredonia’s Juliet J. Rosch Recital Hall—an ideal performance space for chamber music. Having performed in this hall several times myself, I can personally attest to its fidelity and quality.
Upon perusal of the program notes and performer’s biographical sketches, it was interesting to learn that both Hunger and her pianist, Dan Sato, wrote them for each other. I find this to be a welcome deviation from the standard biographies found in most CD booklets—it is more personal, meaningful, and provides a glimpse into the personalities of the artists, rather than simply listing their various accomplishments.
The recording’s first selection, Robert Schumann’s (1810-1856) Adagio and Allegro, Op. 70 is Hunger’s own transcription published by ESURIO Media. It opens with Hunger’s highly refined and clear tone on the tenor saxophone. It is immediately apparent that this transcription from the original cello/horn version is successful, as the tenor saxophone blends elements of both instruments into its tone. Hunger incorporates vibrato into the tone nicely and it is never overpowering. Her upper register never sounds forced—it sounds very natural and sings above the piano. She demonstrates a crisp articulation style in the Allegro, and while playing in the low register it is very responsive, as the tones just sing out of her instrument. This performance is indicative of the entire recording in terms of Hunger’s sensitive phrasing as well as the great interplay between herself and pianist Dan Sato.
Following the Schumann piece is another of Hunger’s published transcriptions, the Sonata No. 1, Op. 78 by Johannes Brahms (1833-1897). Originally scored for violin and piano, Hunger took the original version, as well as Paul Klengel’s arrangement for cello, and combined them to create her own adaptation for tenor saxophone and piano. The first movement, Vivace ma non troppo, demonstrates Hunger’s abilities in the altissimo register to great effect. The high altissimo tones are executed with aplomb and are reminiscent of the tone quality of the strings, always sounding natural and never appearing forced. There is an omnipresent sensitivity to the melodic line, whether it is found in the saxophone or the piano, and Hunger exhibits great dynamic control throughout the range of her instrument. In the slow second movement, Hunger again demonstrates her superb dynamic control and nuance, particularly in the pianissimo range, as well as her solid intonation—at times blending so well with the piano that they sound like one instrument. The final movement displays a great sense of energy which keeps the long melodic lines moving. Hunger’s playing is so tasteful and convincing that one forgets that this is a transcription of a string work.
Deviations’s final work is Introduction and Samba by American composer Maurice Whitney (1909-1984). Originally scored for alto saxophone and band, the version heard here is with the composer’s piano reduction. Hunger’s light and focused alto saxophone tone is perfectly suitable for this music, and her subtle vibrato shadings add a splash of color to the longer tones. As was evinced in her tenor playing, Hunger’s altissimo register on the alto saxophone sounds very natural and controlled. In the samba section, she displays a solid technique and articulation in the rapid passages. A minor criticism of the performance is that the piano reduction lacks some of the drama and intensity of the original band instrumentation; however, Sato’s artistic piano playing is very convincing and energetic, making the adaptation for piano work effectively.
All in all, the three selections contained on Deviations are artistically rendered and showcase a deep knowledge of and appreciation of the music. Diane Hunger demonstrates that she is equally comfortable with performing older music as well as contemporary music, and her partnership with Dan Sato is solid. It was refreshing to hear music from a later style period played so expertly and convincingly, as there are not as many high-quality transcriptions of Romantic period music as there are those from earlier epochs. To that end, this recording and the pieces featured on it are worthy additions to the libraries of saxophonists everywhere.