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A delightful take on beautiful music

Sax appeal: Ferio Saxophone Quartet celebrated some important classical works and introduced exciting new works

Ferio Saxophone Quartet at the Earl Cameron Theatre

Like an old friend with a new hairstyle, a familiar classical favourite played with an entirely different instrumentation allows you to encounter the piece anew and appreciate it all over again.

That was the opportunity afforded the audience by the highly accomplished musicians of Ferio Saxophone Quartet at the Earl Cameron Theatre.

The soprano sax, played by Huw Wiggin, assumed the role of what would traditionally have been first violin, while the alto sax, played by Ellie McMurray, took on the second violin parts. The viola part was adopted by Jose Bañuls on tenor sax, while Shevaughan Beere on baritone took on the role of the cello.

Celebrating some of the important works of the classical canon and introducing exciting new works of 21st-century composers, the programme was chosen, we were told, to showcase the versatility of the instrument now almost exclusively associated with jazz, but whose roots are classical.

The first half of the programme included Bach’s Fugue in G Minor and the three movements of his Italian Concerto, while Greig’s Air from Holberg Suite Op 40, with its elegant, haunting phrases brought us into the 20th century.

Written for instruments with a completely different timbre, the latter piece emphasised the woodwind elements of the saxophone, more elegiac than some of the other pieces and with an oriental feel in places.

There were also two pieces written expressly for saxophone, the first being Petit Quatuor pour Saxophones by Jean Francaix, a composition of three movements starting off in a light-hearted, playful mood evocative of “gay Paree”, before shifting to the strange, melancholy phrases of the second movement, which evoked the long shadows of an autumn afternoon. The witty final movement returned to the lively, playful mood of the first.

The first half of the programme ended with the energetic, exciting Hoe Down composed by Will Gregory and featuring the baritone saxophone.

Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor began the second half of the programme, in which three Bermudian students, Ross Cooper, Ryan Topple and Gareth Cooper, all on alto sax, joined the professionals on stage. It was pleasing to see emerging artists being given the opportunity to stretch themselves in this way.

There followed two movements of Hugo Reinhart’s Quartet in F Minor, something of an anachronism, having been written for saxophone in the 20th century but in the style of the 18th. The lyrical adagio was pastoral in tone, while the presto was full of animation. The programme ended with two compositions by contemporary Dutch composer Guillermo Lago. The first, With Ships the Sea was Sprinkled Far and Nigh, was from a series inspired by the poems of William Wordsworth and commissioned by the quartet.

It began with a reading of the poem and was bright and energetic in feel. Cuidades, a series of “musical postcards” rounded out the evening. Featured were Montevideo, Sarajevo and Addis Ababa, each hauntingly evocative of the spirit of the place. Graciously, this talented quartet returned for an encore featuring an excerpt from Handel’s Water Music.

The evening’s programme presented beautiful music in a delightfully fresh way, resulting in a deeper appreciation of the features of both instrument and music not noticed before.