Transcend - Fukio Quartet
Ars Musici ARS 38 341
Classical - Chamber
Works by Mellits, Shaw, Haas, Albright
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Review by Adrian Quanjer - March 17, 2023
About seven years ago, I reviewed Fukio Ensemble: Time in Motion saying “This performance confirms that these four stand at the beginning of what promises to become a brilliant career”. The proof is here. I shall not dwell on all that’s said at the time about the classical use of these instruments. One thing is clear though, whoever knows the saxophone from the pop scene, will not believe his or her ears, or even that it is the same instrument.
Fukio’s playing is the superlative of perfect. It has to be heard to be believed. There are two things: The perfectionism of the interplay and the perfectionism of the tone shaping. Both are samples of what can be done when such competent saxophonists get together and keep together. For the first time in 2008 under the name Crisis (I’m not sure if it was related to the banking crisis in that very same year) shortly thereafter changed to Fukio, which is Japanese for a similar meaning. Not that it changes anything but it is, all the same, nice to know. And whoever wants to know more: do read the liner notes.
What most of us will be interested in, is the musical menu and its translation for the benefit of our ears. There is William Allbright’s “Fantasy Etudes for Saxophone Quartet”. Not an easy piece of cake. Six parts to examine saxophone players’ abilities, rather than to please audiences, I’d say. To separate the wheat from the chaff? In less competent hands it will surely risk becoming an absolute ear sore. It is thoroughly a-tonal. However, in their rendition, the Fukio’s do command and earn nothing but respect! Fantastic tone balance, embouchures, and breathing techniques. The real examination proof is track 13 (of all numbers!). I’d give them 10 out of 10.
Time for Caroline Shaw’s “Entr’acte”. Icing on the previous cake. In its arrangement by the Fukio Quartet a World Premiere Recording. It sounds so simple but I’m sure that hours and hours of playing together must have gone into it, if only to get the perfectionism in the close harmonies. The ‘togetherness’ of these four is such that one could imagine that it is played on one instrument, like an organ.
Excuse me for hopping up and down, or rather the other way around, through the programme but it’s inspired by the kind of music. This new Fukio album opens with another World premiere arrangement, Mark Mellits’ “Tapas”. The first bite is a stiff bite, but there is a wide choice for everyone, from sweet to peppered, and the more I hear it the more I like it. Sound playing by all.
In 2014 George Friedrich Haas wrote a piece under the apposite title “Saxophone Quartet”. Microtonal and nervous, commissioned by Cologne Music and the European Concert Hall Organisation (ECHO). Never been recorded before. Whatever one's opinion, nothing but praise for the interpreters. Hellishly difficult. The competition, if any, should be worried.
And there is more praise for the engineering. Each twist and turn of the instruments is conveyed to the listener in outstandingly realistic surround sound.
A final hint: Don’t forget to read the liner notes as it sheds much interesting light on this remarkable disc.
Blangy-le-Château, Normandy, France.
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