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Fitzwilliam Museum Cambridge: Sunday Lunchtime Concert

Two gods of wind made their presence unmistakably felt at last Sunday’s Fitzwilliam lunchtime concert.

Outside, Aeolus in the shape of ‘Storm Ciara’ roared above Gallery 3, while inside saxophonist Rob Burton harnessed the element to make his saxophone produce the sounds it’s only capable of in the hands of a virtuoso such as himself.

Rob Burton and Yuanfan Yang (Rob’s piano accompanist on Sunday) are both alumni of the BBC Young Musician of the Year Competition, and both finalists in their respective years.

Robert Burton (28827251)
Robert Burton (28827251)

Rob Burton began his career as a saxophonist at the age of 10, playing essentially pop and jazz. He’s a local musician (Huntingdonshire) and on Sunday he was effectively revisiting his own history for, as he pointed out, he was performing his concert in the very gallery at the Fitzwiliam where he’d first heard classical saxophone played (by Sam Corkin).

Rob’s career has travelled in an opposite direction from that of the saxophone itself which actually began as a classical instrument in the mid C19th and only later became associated with jazz and popular music.

Many will remember Rob’s astonishing performance of Paul Creston’s Saxophone Concerto in the Final of the BBC 2018 competition. These days he performs with his own saxophone quartet (the ‘Kumori Quartet’) and is a member of the ‘Kavinsky Trio’ (sax, violin and piano), although his first love, he’s said, is being a soloist performing with an orchestra.

On Sunday we were treated to a selection of works which demonstrated all varieties of the classical saxophone, ranging from arrangements for the instrument of early wind compositions, through C19th pieces to those of the earlier C20th.

It’s interesting to note, as Rob has elsewhere remarked, that many very well-known composers have in fact written for saxophone, including Vaughan Williams, Britten, Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Debussy and Ravel.

Robert Burton (28827239)
Robert Burton (28827239)

Sunday’s concert began with ‘Fantasie sur un theme original’ by Jules Demersseman, one of the earliest pieces specifically designated for classical saxophone. This demanded real virtuosic ability and comprised a lovely waltz-time measure sandwiched between two lively sections, and ending with a positively bewildering cascade of notes.

Next came Robert Planel’s ‘Prélude et Saltarelle’, written as a test piece for the Paris Conservatoire. The first section with some beautiful, slow and sustained quiet passages was in marked contrast with what followed in Saltarelle - ‘jumping pieces’ as Rob described them (Lat. ‘saltare ‘to dance’).

Pianist Yuanfan Yang introduced ‘Après un rêve’ (after a dream) by Gabriel Fauré which he described as lyrical and beautiful, one of Fauré’s most famous pieces and often performed on cello.

For the chronologically earliest piece in performance, Alessandro Marcello’s Oboe Concerto in D minor, the saxophone arrangement required Rob to switch from alto-sax to soprano saxophone. This, he said, was more in keeping with the authentic Baroque sound the work demanded. He played it with absolute conviction; the adagio with great beauty and clarity, and the Presto with such fast flying fingers as to seem almost humanly impossible.

The performance concluded with a veritable showpiece; ‘Pequeña Czarda’ by Pedro Iturralde. The ‘czarda’ is a Hungarian folk dance alternating, as Rob explained, between fast and slow.

Robert Burton at the Fitzwilliam Museum (28849929)
Robert Burton at the Fitzwilliam Museum (28849929)

And so it was; the evocative slow opening of the piece accelerating to heady abandon, a pattern repeated throughout, and with such infectious rhythmic appeal as to scarcely keep people from getting up from their seats and capering around the room.

It was the perfect end to a captivating performance. What a talent Rob Burton is; and who better to accompany him than Yuanfan Yang with his astounding pianism.

Rob will be giving another lunchtime recital at St Clement’s Church, Bridge St, Cambridge on Saturday 22 February from 1.00pm. He’ll be playing Glazunov’s Saxophone Concerto alongside the St Clements Players who will also perform works by Mozart, Elgar and Grieg.


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