Annelies Vrieswijk honours French composers on CD Héroines

On her latest album, alto saxophonist Annelies Vrieswijk presents music by three French composers who have been very inspirational for her. The title is as simple as it is effective: Héroines.

She graduated with honours twice: in 2006 Annelies Vrieswijk received her Bachelor saxophone with Peter Stam at the Prince Claus Conservatoire in Groningen, two years later she completed her Master with Arno Bornkamp at the Amsterdam Conservatoire. There she also met pianist Mark Toxopeus, with whom she formed the Duo Vrieswijk-Toxopeus and later the Rodion Trio, together with clarinettist Diederik Ornée.

On Héroines she once more joins forces with Toxopeus. It is a tribute to three relatively unknown French composers whom Vrieswijk considers to be her heroes. Paule Maurice (1910-1967); Jeanine Rueff (1922-1999) and Lucie Robert (1936-2019) were born a decade apart, but all studied with the same teachers at the Paris Conservatoire. Later they also taught there and all three composed a lot for saxophone, which Vrieswijk attributes in her CD booklet to their warm ties with colleagues in the saxophone department.

It is convenient that their music is presented in chronological order. This way we can judge whether, and to what extent, the three composers were inspired by contemporary developments. Maurice writes virtuoso music, which stays within the traditional framework but is performed by Vrieswijk with apparent gusto.

After the whirling Volio for alto saxophone solo, Toxopeus joins her for the five-part suite Tableaux de Provence. Here they take us on an infectious journey along very different atmospheres; from carefree cheerfulness to melancholy and bravura.

The technically demanding Sonata for solo alto saxophone by Jeanine Rueff from 1969 is more contemporary. The score abounds in large intervals and strong contrasts in dynamics, tempo and atmosphere, occasionally spiced up with a tiny pinch of jazz. But here too, there is no trace of innovations made by such greats as Schönberg or Stravinsky. The same goes for the highly lyrical Chanson et passepied for alto saxophone and piano.

The solo piece Perpetuum Mobile by Lucie Robert from 1989 makes me perk up my ears. Apparently from out of nowhere, Vrieswijk makes low, sustained tones swell, which are then interrupted by sudden rests and flashing outbursts in the higher registers.

The notes gradually become faster and faster, and almost casually, modern playing techniques are introduced, such as slaps, flatterzunge and multiphonics. Towards the end, quickly tumbling motives suggest the compelling movement of the title. Cadenza with pounding piano clusters and screeching sounds from the alto saxophone is also very appealing.

Vrieswijk and Toxopeus form a happy combination. Toxopeus matches Vrieswijk’s velvety tone with an equally refined touch and responds to powerful blasts from the saxophone with pointed keyboard playing. Their interplay, and interpretation of the various pieces are exemplary.

As a bonus, the CD booklet offers a number of beautiful portraits of Vrieswijk, made by Maaike Eijkman.

About Thea Derks

I am a Dutch music journalist, specializing in contemporary music, and a champion of women composers. In 2014 I wrote the biography of Reinbert de Leeuw (3rd edition in 2020) and in 2018 I published 'Een os op het dak: moderne muziek na 1900 in vogelvlucht'.
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