By Heidi Radtke
It is rare to encounter a performance that inspires the incorporation of each work into one’s own daily practice, yet the recently released recording Légende, by saxophonist Oskar Laznik and pianist Tadej Horvat, may do just that. Recorded in August 2018, this exquisitely performed album includes works for alto saxophone and piano by Wijnand van Klaveren, Georges Sporck, Paul Hindemith, Lojze Lebič, Fernande Decruck, and Yvan Markovitch.
Opening with the Sonateàla manière de Francis Poulenc written in 1998 by Dutch composer Wijnand van Klaveren (b. 1975), Laznik immediately greets listeners with a clear and focused tone that demands full attention. A nod to the great French composer, Klaveren’s three-movement sonata is an elegant and witty composition that will likely continue to grow in popularity within the saxophone community, especially with Laznik’s recording as a model. Through controlled technique, flawless execution, superb pitch, and subtle vibrato, Laznik provides shades of expression that compliments and brings out the best in what this piece has to offer.
Composed in 1905, Georges Sporck’s (1870-1943) Légende, op. 54is one in a series of works for saxophone and orchestra by French composers commissioned by and dedicated to American saxophonist Elise Hall. Similar in style and scope to the widely performed Légende, op. 66 by Florent Schmitt, this impressionistic piece works equally well as a saxophone-piano reduction. The piece opens with a lush introduction masterfully executed by Horvat and then transitions into a well-crafted solo cadenza for the saxophone. Laznik’s tone is quite striking upon entrance and his ability to seamlessly shift through various colors and textures provides a great representation of the characteristics demanded by this genre.
One of the highlights of this album is the interpretation of Paul Hindemith’s (1895-1963) Sonata for Alto Horn and Piano. Performed with delicate pacing, the first movement unfolds with a sense of mystery and intrigue. The balance between voices and precise matching of articulations allows listeners to fully absorb the many nuances that can often get lost in this work. The buildup in intensity during the third movement is especially stunning. Laznik and Horvat’s performance clearly exemplifies Hindemith’s contrapuntally complex compositional style.
Lojze Lebič’s (b. 1934) Invocation (àPrimož Ramovš)adds great diversity to the program. This contemporary work is virtuosic and demanding for both the performer and listener. With tonal colors that shift between rich and brassy to cool and flutelike, Laznik’s prowess in both technical and lyrical playing are on full display. At just over 16 minutes in the length, Invocationruns the risk of ear fatigue, however, Laznik’s performance is simply captivating. The active listener will find themselves well-rewarded for their close attention.
Perhaps the most well-known work on the album is Fernande Decruck’s (1896-1954) Sonata in C#. Laznik performs this delicate work with a beautiful sense of line. At times his tone becomes a bit astringent at fortissimo dynamics in the mid and upper registers, especially when contrasted with the purity and control with which he plays at subtler volumes. While technique and intonation continue to be spot on, the second movement truly showcases Laznik’s strengths. The register, dynamic, and delicacy of this movement is especially suited for Laznik. His tone begins rich and dark and goes on to shimmer as the movement progresses. Laznik and Horvat pair together throughout the work with graceful elegance.
Légende concludes with Complainte et Danse by Serbian composer Yvan Markovitch (1929-2017). Capturing elements of both French and Yugoslav folk music, the contrasting movements display a wide range of emotion. The first movement is highly expressive and brooding, echoing the intensity found in portions of Ida Gotkovsky’s Brillance. In contrast, the second movement is filled with whimsical gestures that are performed by both musicians with the utmost sense of life and energy.
Throughout the album, Laznik displays superb musicianship. His nuanced entrances and releases, intonation, virtuosic technique, dynamic and tonal control, especially in the low register, should serve as a model and inspiration to developing saxophonists at every level. This recording goes beyond a mere collection of works and is instead a remarkably well-balanced recital program that would be a treat to witness on the concert stage. Perhaps one of the greatest achievements of this album is the mesmeric playing by the saxophone-piano duo. Truly a collaborative effort, the interplay between Laznik and Horvat is at the highest level. Both musicians are currently on faculty at the Conservatory for Music and Ballet in Ljubljana and will hopefully continue providing the music community with their recordings and live performances.