Wednesday 16 December 2015

Songs for the Coming Day

Songs for the coming day
David Maslanka Songs for the Coming Day; Syzygy Quartet
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Dec 14 2015
Striking contemporary suite for saxophone quartet

Songs for the Coming Day for saxophone quartet by the distinguished American composer David Maslanka was originally commissioned by a group of performers in 2012. The young British saxophone quartet, the Syzygy Quartet, which was one of the original commissioners of the piece have now recorded it on their own label.

The music is predominantly slow and sustained, and the group's performances are remarkable for the way they sustain the intensity. David Maslanka utilises individual movements in the different instrumental lines to create subtle movement and harmonic shifts. But there is nothing minimal about the music, quite the opposite.  The opening has a quite romantic feel, but what is fascinating is the way Maslanka moves the moved from consonance to passages of intense and disturbing dissonance.

Syzygy Quartet
Syzygy Quartet
Whilst not programme music there is a clear message and programme to the pieces. In his introduction David Maslanka talks about mankind 'destroying the natural world at an ever increasing pace', but he also finds a 'rising creative energy' in the process too, a harbinger of 'a new way of living, with ourselves and with the earth'.

It is intriguing therefore that Maslanka uses three hymns within the work, and these form some of the more structured, consonant passages from which the more uncertain dissonance flows. Maslanka has also worked two of his older songs into the piece.

The Syzygy Quartet (Naomi Sullivan, Dominic Childs, Michaela Stapleton, Neil McGovern) was formed in 2009 after they played together at the 2009 World Saxophone Congress in Bangkok. The Syzygy Quartet were co-commissioners of Songs for the Coming Day, and the work was premiered in Tokyo in 2012 by the Masato Kumo Saxophone Quartet, the group which was the lead commissioner of the work.  David Maslanka refers to the pieces as songs yet there is little that is conventionally song-like, instead he has created music which utilises the qualities of the saxophone quartet whilst never being Hackneyed.

David Maslanka was born in 1943 and studied at Oberlin Conservatory, Michigan State University and the Mozarteum in Salzburg. He is known particularly for his music for wind ensemble including nine symphonies for wind band/concert band and a mass for voices, choir and wind ensemble. You can read more about Songs for the coming day on David Maslanka's website, and there is even a PDF of the score for perusal.

The Cd is stylish to the point of frustration. You have to unwrap the insertion leaflet to learn the name of the composer and there are no biographical details for him. neither do we learn who the co-commissioners of the piece were.

David Masklanka's rather quiet, intense and concentrated music will not necessarily be to everyone's taste but there is no doubt that the Syzygy Quartet give a stunning performance of what is a remarkable new piece.

David Maslanka (born 1943) - Songs for the coming day (2012) [43:14]
Syzygy Saxophone Quartet

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