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Revoiced: Voices and Saxophones, plus Vaughan Williams

Corvus Consort (vocal ensemble) and Ferio Saxophone Quartet

Contemporary works by leading living composers sit alongside a programme of Baroque and Renaissance vocal music uniquely reimagined for voices and saxophones.

Corvus Consort and Ferio Saxophone Quartet present a programme of music for choir and saxophones drawn from their collaborative album ‘Revoiced’, released on Chandos Records on 1st July 2022.

Originally inspired by ‘Revive’ (the Ferio Saxophone Quartet’s 2018 disc of Baroque transcriptions), ‘Revoiced’ explores the magical blend of saxophones and voices, bringing new colours to music from the Baroque and Renaissance, recasting contemporary choral works into a fresh soundworld, and inspiring the creation of new music.

Written specially for Corvus and Ferio, Owain Park’s Miserere after Allegri is a recomposition of Allegri’s iconic choral work, placing voices and saxophones in dialogue and translating the original music into a rich contemporary soundworld. Park’s piece is complemented beautifully by James MacMillan’s stunning Christus vincit, originally written for 8-part choir and soprano solo, and appearing here in a special arrangement for voices and saxophones by the Consort’s Director, Freddie Crowley. The original high soprano solo is given here to the soprano saxophone, which brings an added brilliance to the soaring line with its lithe improvisational ornamentation, and allows for a magical diminuendo when the solo is left hanging at the end of the piece, fading into its own echo.

Amongst the Baroque and Renaissance works in the programme sits music from Heinrich Schütz’s Geistliche Chor-Music of 1648. In the preface to this collection, Schütz writes that “You can perform some of these pieces […] with an organ or instruments on the choral parts along with a full choir”. He was not, of course, thinking of saxophones, as these wouldn’t be invented for another 200 years, but ‘Revoiced’ gives a fascinating insight into how this music would have sounded on the instruments of the future.

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 the music of Schütz and his contemporaries so infinitely adaptable, and perfectly-suited to the treatment of ‘Revoiced’. New transcriptions and arrangements make use of the saxophone’s quasi-vocal timbre to blur the distinction between voices and instruments, creating an intense blend and heightened sense of unity in the ensemble, and offering a fresh and exciting route into the Baroque and Renaissance vocal repertory. In his 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”.

The last item in the programme is the most substantial: an arrangement of Vaughan Williams’s five-movement cantata In Windsor Forest, which he based on music from his opera Sir John in Love. The arrangement, written by the Consort’s Director Freddie Crowley, was specially commissioned by Chiltern Arts with the support of the Vaughan Williams Charitable Trust, and first performed by Corvus  and Ferio at the Chiltern Arts Festival in February 2022, in celebration of Vaughan Williams’s 150th year. The arrangement capitalises on the saxophone’s immense timbral adaptability to recreate the sonorities and moods of the full orchestral version in a chamber music context: from the nimble woodwind of the first and third movements (“The Conspiracy” and “Falstaff & the Fairies”) and the lyrical string melodies of the fourth (“Wedding Chorus”), to the second movement’s stabbing percussive chords (“Drinking Song”) and the brassy march of the fifth (“Epilogue”).

Hour-long programme

Johann Sebastian Bach – Jesus bleibet meine Freude, from Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben, BWV 147
Andrea Gabrieli, arr. Freddie Crowley – O salutaris hostia
Johann Sebastian Bach, arr. Freddie Crowley – Zion hört die Wächter singen, from Wachet Auf, ruft uns die Stimme, BWV 140
Owain Park – Miserere after Allegri
Johann Michael Bach, arr. Freddie Crowley – Ich weiss dass mein Erlöser lebt
Johann Sebastian Bach, arr. Freddie Crowley – Weil du mein Gott und Vater bist, from Warum betrübst du dich, mein Herz, BWV 138
James MacMillan, arr. Freddie Crowley – Christus vincit
Heinrich Schütz, arr. Freddie Crowley – Das Wort ward Fleisch und wohnet unter uns , from Geistliche Chor-Music, op. 11
Ralph Vaughan Williams, arr. Freddie Crowley – In Windsor Forest
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