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Revoiced: Baroque music for choir and saxophones

Corvus Consort (vocal ensemble) and Ferio Saxophone Quartet

Baroque and Renaissance choral music reimagined for choir and saxophones.

The Corvus Consort and Ferio Saxophone Quartet come together to present a new collaboration building on the success of ‘Revive’, the Ferio Saxophone Quartet’s 2018 disc of Baroque transcriptions. Their joint forces can be seen in action in this video, produced during the Coronavirus lockdown, of Bach’s accompanied chorale ‘Jesus bleibet meine Freude’ (‘Jesu joy of man’s desiring’).

In the preface to his Geistliche Chor-Music of 1648, a collection of 29 sacred motets for a choir of five to seven voices, Heinrich Schütz writes that “You can perform some of these pieces […] with an organ or instruments on the choral parts along with a full choir”. The instruments he had in mind were not saxophones, which wouldn’t be invented for another 200 years, but that’s not to say he wouldn’t have found them an excellent choice!

Schütz intended his collection to be a demonstration of good composition without basso continuo, focussing on contrapuntal techniques as the foundation of compositional technique. It is these contrapuntal techniques that make his and other Baroque and Renaissance music so infinitely adaptable into new forms, new instrumentations, whole new genres. The music of J. S. Bach is perhaps the most prolific example — symphonic arrangements of his organ music by Elgar, numerous guitarists performing transcriptions of the keyboard works, Jacques Loussier’s jazz interpretation of the Goldberg Variations, the Swingle Singers’ a-cappella organ fugue, Wendy Carlos on the Moog synthesiser in 1968…

This concert programme extends this immense adaptability to provide a unique new perspective on vocal works by Bach, Schütz and many more, in the pairing of choir and saxophone quartet. New transcriptions and arrangements make use of the saxophone’s quasi-vocal timbre to blur the distinction between voices and instruments, intensifying the ensemble’s blend and creating a heightened sense of unity throughout the music. Alongside these new arrangements, the Corvus Consort sings Baroque and Renaissance works in their untouched forms, and the Ferio Saxophone Quartet performs items from their 2018 disc of instrumental Baroque transcriptions ‘Revive’.

In his aforementioned preface, Schütz goes on to write: “I assume that a competent musician can judge for themselves how to perform [these pieces] appropriately”. The musicians hope that Schütz would judge this fresh take on his and his contemporaries’ music at the very least “appropriate”.

Example programme:

Giovanni Gabrieli – O magnum mysterium
Johann Sebastian Bach, arr. Freddie Crowley – Zion hört die Wächter singen, from Wachet Auf, ruft uns die Stimme, BWV 140
Johann Sebastian Bach, arr. Freddie Crowley – Nun ich weiss du wirst mir stillen, from Herr, gehe nicht ins Gericht mit deinem Knecht, BWV 105
Johann Sebastian Bach, arr. Iain Farrington – Brandenburg Concerto no. 3 in G major, BWV 1048 (sax quartet only)
Tomás Luis de Victoria – O quam gloriosum (choir only)
Arcangelo Corelli, arr. Iain Farrington – Adagio from Concerto grosso in G minor, op. 6, no. 8, Christmas Concerto (sax quartet only)
Heinrich Schütz, arr. Freddie Crowley – Was mein Gott will, das g’scheh allzeit, from Geistliche Chor-Music, op. 11
Heinrich Schütz, arr. Freddie Crowley – Ich weiss das mein Erlöser lebt, from Geistliche Chor-Music, op. 11
Henry Purcell, arr. Iain Farrington – Rondeau from Abdelazer Suite, Z. 570 (sax quartet only)
Henry Purcell – Remember not, Lord, our offences (choir only)
William Byrd, arr. Iain Farrington – Pavane and Gigue no. 2 in A minor, Earl of Salisbury (sax quartet only)
William Byrd – Ave verum corpus (choir only)
Heinrich Schütz, arr. Freddie Crowley – Selig sind die Toten, from Geistliche Chor-Music, op. 11
Johann Michael Bach – Herr, ich warte auf dein Heil
Johann Christoph Bach – Es ist nun aus mit meinem Leben (choir only)
Johann Sebastian Bach, arr. Freddie Crowley – Weil du mein Gott und Vater bist, from Warum betrübst du dich, mein Herz, BWV 138
Johann Sebastian Bach – Jesus bleibet meine Freude, from Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben, BWV 147
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