Ferio Saxophone Quartet at Bridport Arts Centre

TODAY’S sparkling mid-morning concert was part of a tour given by the Ferio Saxophone Quartet and promoted by Concerts in the West.

Winners of several prestigious awards, this relatively new ensemble is already considered to be one of Britain’s leading chamber music groups, having performed at the Wigmore Hall, the Purcell Room and St John’s, Smith Square as well as taking part in several festivals including the Edinburgh Fringe and the Three Choirs. The four young musicians who make up the Ferio, Huw Wiggin (soprano), Ellie McMurray (alto), Jose Bañuls (tenor) and Shevaughan Beere (baritone), gave us a well-balanced programme featuring both original pieces for sax as well as some great arrangements.  Playing with spellbinding precision and impeccable technique throughout, they gave the capacity audience at Bridport a concert that was an absolute joy from start to finish.

The Ferio’s opening piece, Hoe Down by Will Gregory, was one of several works by modern composers that were completely new to me.   And what an electrifying starter it was.  Rhythmically exciting, with tremendous attention given to dynamics and requiring the use of circular breathing (a technique for producing continuous sound by breathing in through the nose while simultaneously pushing air out through the mouth) this was real virtuoso stuff.  Despite the delicate rapidity of many of the passages (demisemiquavers at the very least I am sure), every line was crystal clear.  Wonderful ensemble playing and a wonderful, if daring choice for an opening number.

We were on more familiar ground with the second group of pieces of the morning, three songs from West Side Story.  Celebrating the centenary of Bernstein’s birth, Boatman’s classy arrangements were performed with great warmth and fine control.  I loved the witty humour of I Feel Pretty and Gee, Officer Krupke while Somewhere was performed with considerable tenderness and featured some truly haunting sounds at the end.
Astor Piazzolla’s Café 1930 (from Histoire du Tango) followed – a piece chosen to demonstrate and explore the versatility of the saxophone.  Filled with atmosphere and with some seductive rubato phrasing, this was a finely judged performance, no one instrument dominating, each member of the quartet responding to the playing of the others with sensitivity and matchless musicality.

Bach’s Italian Concerto was written for solo harpsichord several hundred years before the saxophone was invented, yet the man himself would surely have loved the masterful transcription that came next.  As the programme notes told us, “the distinctive sounds of the four saxophones provide an opportunity to hear clearly the interweaving individual melodic lines, and appreciate Bach’s counterpoint with fresh ears.”  How well it suited the ensemble and how effortless they made it all sound.  From the vitality of the first allegro, through the languishing tenderness of the tenor sax’s sinuous andante to the nimble, conversational interplay of the various lines in the final presto (or was it prestissimo?) this was a glorious performance.

Hugo Reinhart is another composer of whom I had not heard, and the final two movements of his Quartet in F minor (adagio and presto) made for an utterly charming introduction to his work.  Written in a neo-classical style, one could be forgiven for thinking they had come across a hitherto undiscovered piece of Mozart.  The lyrical slow movement was a delight, while the rapid unison semiquavers at the end of the presto, played with split-second precision, was a real tour de force.
Guillermo Lago is the pen-name of the Dutch composer Willem van Merwijk, a composer with whom the Ferio Quartet have close associations.  It seems appropriate therefore that the final piece in today’s concert should have been by him, in this case, two movements from his Ciudades (Cities), a multi-movement work that musically depicts cities that have a special significance for him.  In the first of these, Sarajevo, and in a beautifully balanced performance, the long, heartfelt melodic line, accompanied either by sustained chords or increasingly rapid triplets, grew with a well measured intensity as the music progressed.  The second city, Addis Ababa, made for a wonderfully exotic and flamboyant finale.  The dazzling colours of the ensemble’s performance (we particularly loved the percussive noises the players produced from time to time) have put Ethiopia firmly on my list of places to visit.  What a breath-taking performance!

Definitely worth looking out for, details of the Ferio Quartet’s recordings, forthcoming concerts and workshops can be found on their website: www.feriosax.co.uk   This was a concert to remember – a real five-star occasion.



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