Bach: Solo - Hekkema
Challenge Classics CC 72950
Classical - Instrumental
Johann Sebastian Bach:
Partita BWV 1013
Adagio & Presto from BWV 1001
Allegro, Largo & Largo from BWV 1005
Grave from BWV 1003
Chromatische Fantasie BWV 903
Fantasie BWV 922
Präludium & Allegro BWV 998
Raaf Hekkema, saxophones
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Review by Adrian Quanjer - March 13, 2023
Is Raaf Hekkema a prime advocate of Adolphe Sax? If so, then surely not the only one, fans of Stan Getz will no doubt put forward. I can go along with that but from whatever angle one looks at it, Hekkema has lifted the saxophone in its various formats from a mostly jazzy wind instrument to a role model in the Classical World of Sax. It is, furthermore, particularly illuminating to read his thoughts about ‘a note is not a tone’. It is not about being out of tune, it is all about colouring and giving expression to a written score. According to Hekkema, his blowing and breathing technique and the almost endless finger combinations, enabling him to extract ‘microtones’ from his instrument, do matter. With that in mind, I listened with renewed interest to discover to what extent this new release is yet another example of what he is capable of doing with Adolphe’s invention.
Some time ago I reviewed Bach: Cello Suites 1-6 - Hekkema. It led me to the conclusion “that all serious saxophone players will be thrilled to listen to what this unique saxophonist can do with the material at hand”. In this new survey of several of Johan Sebastian Bach’s works for solo instruments, one must assume that much of Raaf’s secret lies, as before, in cleverly shaping the arrangements and marrying its musical expression with the right saxophone (and mouthpiece) to achieve a similar -and some are convinced even a better- sense of magic as when listening to the original. Hekkema has that unique skill -and some inventive trickery- to re-compose a score as if it were new. Or, as someone wondered: “Which instrument was it originally written for?” Not entirely devoid of logic as Bach, too, often transposed some of his music for another instrument in a way hard to guess what was the original.
However, it is not only the marital agreement, i.e., seeking the perfect combination of instrument and re-written scores, as he has done in this release and previous albums, nor his philosophy about note&tone. It would seem to me that his approach to the saxophone goes deeper than that. A state of mind? Who is the master? “I don’t want my instrument to dictate what I sound like”, he said 6 years ago in an interview (Thomas Erdmann, Saxophone Today). That’s probably why he keeps tinkering with his instruments until they become part of him, allowing him to produce that individual sound that makes him, and not only in the world of followers, an enviable Wizard of the Saxophone featuring a whole range of customized saxophones
All of this breaks out in The Sonata, with which Hekkema opens the programme. It is built on a selection taken from three of Bach’s five solo violin sonatas (BWV 1001/3/5). To best emulate the sound of the violin, he has chosen a Japanese 1992 Yanagisawa soprano saxophone, with (for the in-crowd) a mouthpiece Vandoren S27. Despite his apparent picking and choosing, the resulting six (!) movements Sonata does come across as a singular ‘new’ work.
At this point, a word about the sound. As with previous volumes, the quality of Bert van der Wolf’s engineering is way beyond average. His recordings stand out in clarity and realism. Supposing your equipment is at par, the high notes of this soprano saxophone can be rather penetrating. If your ears are sensitive, I suggest keeping the volume under control. Moreover, in comparison with Bach: Cello Suites 1-6 - Hekkema differences are notable due to the chosen location; the former having been recorded in the Oud Katholieke kerk (Old Catholic church), Delft, The Netherlands, and this new one in the more intimate surrounding of a local community centre (Rembrandtzaal, De Bakermat) at Arnhem, The Netherlands.
The following ‘re-written’ Chromatic Fantasia BWV 903, originally composed for the harpsichord, is colour-matched by a French 1984 Buffet-Crampon Prestige alto saxophone with a vintage Hekkema ‘refaced’ mouthpiece. It may be chauvinism, but I liked the soft-toned sound very much. Monsieur Sax would have been over the moon with the nobility Hekkema draws from this instrument.
The next item, BWV 922, is a tour de force: In origin, a chromatic repetition for the harpsichord that cannot and will not bore the listener because of its ingenious simplicity, gets in Hekkema’s arrangement, paired with the same Japanese soprano sax, an entirely new life with his agile and simply amazing finger work and mind-boggling embouchure technique. For the remainder of the programme, two vintage American (Indiana) Buescher saxophones enter the scene: A 1927 straight alto saxophone for the Prelude & Allegro BWV 998, exploiting its beautiful singing character, and a 1924 curved soprano saxophone for the Partita BWV 1013, the sound of which I prefer over the one used in the Sonata.
What Stan Getz may have been for the Californian Jazz scene is Raaf Hekkema undoubtedly for the Classical Saxophone World. With a notable difference though. Stanley was a master on the tenor sax, Raaf excels on several: The alto and the soprano used in this recording, and the tenor sax in the previous volume (Suite BWV 1008).
With this fourth solo album (of which three were released by Challenge Classics) Raaf Hekkema has constituted a Guide to the Saxophone that is not only ideal for saxophonists, and conservatoria but also for multiple other interested parties. In that sense, he is no doubt one of, if not the best advocate of Adolphe’s invention.
Blangy-le-Château, Normandy, France.
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