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Huw Wiggin: a virtuoso of the saxophone

Henley Standard


HENLEY Symphony Orchestra’s ever popular summer concert was presented to a large audience in the grand marquee at Shiplake College on Saturday.

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The highlight of the evening was from the soloist, Huw Wiggin, a virtuoso of the saxophone if there ever was one. Huw comes from Henley, was Commonwealth Musician of the Year and amply demonstrated how well he deserves the prizes he has obtained and the plaudits of the musical press.

The concert opened with Elgar’s Cockaigne Overture — a reference to the Arcadian land but describing with affection and no little irony London and its inhabitants; very English of around 1900 and convincingly performed by the excellent string section and the no less excellent brass. A change of scene took us to Russia and the powers of evil in Night on the Bare Mountain, a Mussorgsky depiction of wild revelry of witches and terror culminating in a tamtam stroke which heralds the arrival of the Archfiend.

Relief arrived with the introduction of the soloist, Huw Wiggin and the soprano saxophone to play a Michael Nyman composition, Where the Bee Dances.

This complex work, in which tempo and time signatures seemed to change with every bar, demanded much from the orchestra who responded admirably and the result was curiously highly enjoyable.

The inspiration of the work which the soloist played from memory is the foraging flight of the bee, forever circling, swooping and gathering nectar. But on to more familiar music with the Spanish scene from Bizet’s Carmen Suite No1.

These much-loved and tuneful excerpts were engagingly played and here the fine wind soloists came to the fore.

But back to Huw Wiggin for his second appearance now with alto saxophone for the Debussy Rhapsody, a lovely work, the smooth and liquid tone of the instrument so effective.

We were furthermore treated to an encore, variations on a Carmen theme and demonstrating virtuoso sax playing in spades! I had not believed such fast fingering was possible.

The concert finished with a further change of scene, Tchaikovski’s Marche Slave commemorating 19th century Russian support for Serbia but now a vehicle for the HSO’s splendid horn quartet. This was a varied and innovative programme, thoroughly well played and enjoyed by all who came.

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Two supreme performers who treated them to a dazzling display of musicianship, artistry and technical wizardry, the like of which they can only occasionally have encountered.

Westmorland Gazette, Brian Paynes

The Kendal Midday Concert Club has the happy knack – when faced with last-minute changes of artist – of finding replacements of equal professional standing who are significantly much more than mere ‘replacements’. Such was the case recently when the pianist, James Sherlock, due to partner the saxophonist, Huw Wiggin, in an  attractive pre-Christmas recital, was indisposed and unable to appear. In his place Huw called upon Somi Kim, a young South Korean lady, who studied in New Zealand, graduating in 2013, won numerous prizes there and, after moving to the UK to study at the Royal Academy and winning further prizes, has become a Park Lane Group Artist. Somi has gained much experience in repetiteuring and is much sought after as a chamber musician and song accompanist.

So original, daring & musically dazzling that it takes one’s breath away

Classical Reviews, Joe Fuller (Brighton Festival 2015)

Sometimes a concert can be so original, daring & musically dazzling that it takes one’s breath away and reminds us of the potential of live music. Huw Wiggin’s virtuoso saxophone playing was one such occasion. The programme was fascinating, including two stunning pieces from Graham Fitkin: ‘Glass’ was a melancholy number that was beautifully simple, still and moving (featuring subtle piano backing from James Sherlock) whereas ‘Gate’ was a more technically challenging piece that was a rewarding showstopper.

Beautiful tone, dynamic gradations and spell binding long note values

Cromer Music Evenings, Terry Keeler

“Huw Wiggin’s performance of Bernstein’s “There’s a place for us” played with such sensitivity, I am sure stirred emotions with the beautiful tone, dynamic gradations and spell binding long note values which were perfect in intonation, even in the pianissimo passages – a master class in breath control indeed.”

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Derby Telegraph

It’s taken a long time for the classical world to fully embrace the saxophone. Even now the repertoire relies on a disproportionate number of transcriptions – not necessarily a bad thing, but symptomatic of a gap that is still closing.

The one original saxophone piece in the recital by Huw Wiggin and pianist James Sherlock was the opening item, Pedro Iturralde’s Pequeña czarda. The players’ full command of its changing moods was typical of the evening as a whole. Wiggin switched from alto to soprano instrument for two movements from Astor Piazzolla’s  Histoire du tango, exploring an impressive dynamic range, and producing a delectable cor anglais-like tone at the bottom of the instrument’s compass.

Security of intonation

Classical Source, Richard Whitehouse

“Saxophonist Huw Wiggin had the full measure of the engaging and highly unpredictable variations on a theme of Leonardo da Vinci that are Giles Swayne’s Leonardo’s Dream (2007), with its airborne final stage summoning an appealingly mellifluous tone, then dispatching Michael Berkeley’s Keening (1987) with the appropriate plangent tone. Wiggin gave Two Memorials by Mark-Anthony Turnage – the wistful, even diffident ‘Trier’ (2000) and the more overtly commemorative ‘Memorial’ (1995), displaying a security of intonation not to be taken for granted with the soprano saxophone.”

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20/09/2020