Review: ‘Revive’ from the Ferio Saxophone Quartet on Chandos

I’m not quite sure whether it’s the power of a suggestive title or that the Ferio Saxophone Quartet’s playing matches the promise on the cover. Either way, there is an invigorating quality to the Ferio’s second release on Chandos that is much-appreciated

They have a challenge on their hands. Such saxophone ensembles can unwittingly create a cliched sound – all shiny gift wrap and big red bows.

Not here though. That’s partly down to Ian Farrington’s arrangements, which afford the players the chance to inject character, texture, and colour through dynamic nuance. Purcell’s Rondeau is a case in point.

They’re also arrangements that leave space for individual soloistic variation, with subtle decorations that take the listener by surprise and raise a smile. This gives something like the Bach Air on a G-String a fresh perspective. These decorations aren’t florid – they don’t dominate, so avoid sounding twee. There’s balance and decorum here. 

I listened (as I usually do) on three separate devices: a JBL Charge 3 bluetooth speaker; JBL Studio Monitors; and, Apple earphones.

It’s the studio monitors which, inevitably deliver the best punch with this recording, hinting at what must have been a complex set up for the recording engineers, both editorially and technically. How to convey both a sense of intimacy and ambience, whilst avoiding the cliche of saxophones in a church and, perhaps most challenging of all, not letting the mechanics of music production dominate the recording?

Part of the recording engineer’s success can be heard in the fugue from Bach BWV 885. Clear, precise and distinct articulation throughout with no hint of a tongue on a reed. That’s something in itself. But that there’s just enough to be heard of the instrument’s keys to create a touching intimacy makes this track a especially enticing.

Whilst the bigger studio monitors reveal some of the subtle detail in the recording, the Apple earphones capitalise on the chocolatey smooth legatos the group consistently produce throughout the album. Sheep May Safely Graze combines a blissfully comforting feel and a pleasing sense of momentum.

Even Apple’s earphones succeed in isolating surrounding sounds to such an extent that there’s greater focus to revel in for the first movement third Brandenburg Concerto. Here is a great demonstration of the Quartet’s trademark ensemble – presumably that which contributed to their Royal Overseas League win in 2015. The sound created by the Ferio Saxophone Quartet on this album has a beautifully seamless quartet, underpinned by an innate understanding of what needs to be heard when. What impresses me most is the ensemble’s balance, in particular the way the burgeoning texture in Bach’s music is always delicately topped off by a modest but always sweet soprano line from Huw Wiggin. 

It is Correlli Adagio’s from the Christmas Concerto that brings me to a complete standstill. Painful melancholy played on soulful instruments. It’s like the music was written for them in the first place. 

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