Ars Subtilior


Ars Subtilior - XASAX   hat[now]ART 107   HAT HUT

Release Date: 1998

Another "radical" program featuring Ars Subtilior music, this time on saxophones : Saxophone - Ars Subtilior - Xasax - Marcus Weiss Hat[Now]Art 107


1. Hugues Dufourt: Quatuor pour saxophones (1990)

2. Jacob de Senleches: En attendent esperance conforte

3. Bernardo Maria Kuczer: Even... the loudest sky! (1981)

4. Senleches : En ce gracieux tamps

5. Alvaro Carlevaro: Quiebros (1993/4)

6. Senleches : Fuions de ci

7. Henri Pousseur: Vue sur les jardins interdits (1973)

Performers: Serge Bertocchi, Jean-Michel Goury, Pierre Stéphane Meugé, Marcus Wiess

Playing time: 53'

Recording dates: June 1995, September 1996, March 1997

This program features saxophone quartet or trio, and alternates very contemporary compositions explicitly for such an ensemble with the Ars Subtilior pieces by Senleches. The Senleches pieces are only about 10 minutes of the program, but feature some interesting sonorities on the saxophones.

The contemporary works offer some variety, and definitely have some enjoyable moments, even if they are very different in style from the medieval pieces for which this disc is listed here.


While saxophone quartets are common in the jazz and free music worlds, there are few models in the world of classical music -- the 20th century notwithstanding. The saxophone quartet XASAX is dedicated to pursuing the saxophone's richness throughout the history of music, whether or not a particular piece of music was written for the saxophone. Here the group performs four modern pieces written for saxophones -- particularly quartets -- all written between 1973 and 1994. In between they have ever so delicately laced three works from classical antiquity, when the saxophone itself hadn't even been a bell in the eardrum of composer Jacob de Senleches. The first of these is by Hugues Dufourt: his "Quartet for Saxophone" (1990). Here the elemental rhythms of jazz are inserted into a tonal system of pitch and repetition like that of Ligeti. Each horn uses the microtones produced by the others to enter into a harmonic agreement within preselected rhythms. This is followed by the heartbreakingly beautiful "En Attendant Asperance (Ballade)" from the 14th century. It is so mournful and regal in its lyric line -- originally written for voices where a kind of improvisation was allowed above a certain register -- that it sinks lowly in the body of the listener, creating sad reveries from the pulse and the timbre of its harmony. Unfortunately, this is followed (terrible sequencing!) by Bernardo Maria Kuczer's "Even...the Loudest Sky" from 1981. From the sounds of it, he must have encountered Rova's earliest work and thought he might improve upon it. Terrible. Again the listener moves through antiquity, searching among de Senleches' pieces for strings and finding "En Ce Graieux Temps." All tonal considerations are based on intonation and the mechanisms of rhythmic interplay, giving the listener the impression that one horn's phrase ends as another's begins -- although they never end, and the weave is constant until the end. Alvaro Carlevaro's "Quiebros" is based on sonant counterpoint between altos and soprano. The tenor, in this case, acts as a baritone and creates the interval for changes in tempo, color, and nuance -- and there are many here. Another ballad by de Senleches steals the show with its organlike siphoned pulsation. This is sacred music; the quartet sounds like the four parts of an organ -- keys, pipes, pedals, buttons -- carrying the antiphon for the mass from the choir loft to the entrants below. Again, it is moving and beautiful in a way it couldn't be for any other arrangement. This is foreign music, "other" music; it operate from the heart in a different way and tonally offers a dissonance that can only be consonant because of the isorhythms in the composer's intention, explained so beautifully and succinctly by Art Lange in the liner notes: arithmetico + melodico + rhythmico. The closer by Henri Pousseur is the bridge across the chasm of the past to the present, where notions of melody and harmony are melded onto modern conceptions of time and meter. Additionally, conceptions of line, phrase, polytonalism, and microphonics are all considered in a fairly traditional lyric mode. In all, XASAX is a gorgeous and brave recording with only one snafu, but it can hardly be held against them for their adventurousness in their quest to bring the saxophone out of the shadows of the Western classical tradition. ~

Thom Jurek, All Music Guide


Paris Transatlantic Magazine / recordings / best of

Part of an ongoing series of six albums for Werner Uehlinger's Hat label, "Ars Subtilior" showcases this fine Franco-Swiss saxophone quartet in works by Carlevaro, Dufourt, Kuczer and Pousseur. Three of Serge Bertocchi's arrangements of music by 14th century composer Jacob de Senleches-hence the album title-are sandwiched in between the new works (the logic of this move becomes clear about half-way through the Pousseur). At times, the Ars Nova material sounds-on saxes-just as way out, though its role as interlude between the more "difficult" pieces follows a Xasax tradition: on their preceding and hard-to-find 1994 album on Erol records the punctuation was provided by Frederic Rzewski's "Spots".

The four recent works are played and recorded with consummate class; Alvaro Carlevaro's rather dry "Quiebros" is rescued by a dramatic reading, and Pousseur's 1973 "Vue sur les jardins interdits" sounds better on saxes than it ever did on organ, a wretched instrument that should be banished to the far reaches of the galaxy. Hugues Dufourt's "Quatuor" is brought off excellently, but the real revelation of this disc is Argentinian Bernardo Maria Kuczer, whose "even ... The loudest sky!!" is one of the wildest things I've heard for some time. Brilliantly written (fiendishly difficult) and played with utter conviction, it makes you wonder what Kuczer's been up to since he wrote this back in 1981. Anything new by either Kuczer or Xasax is welcome here.

Fruit of a collaboration with Harry Vogt and the Festival of Witten as well as with the Swiss label Hat Hut, this CD associates complex music of the XXth century with references to those produced in XIVth century during the movement called "Ars Subtilior", who succeeded Ars Nova.
The presented works also feature the memorable premieres by Bernardo Kuczer and Alvaro Carlevaro during the 1994 Witten Festival, the "
Quatuor pour Saxophones" by Hugues Dufourt, and a somehow- older work by Henri Pousseur entitled "A sight in the forbidden gardens".

The project of the work, a tribute to Maderna, was exactly, in 1973, to question the rejection by post-serial music of any kind of consonnance, the piece integrating a re-reading of Samuel Scheidt's short piece «Herzlich tut mich erfreuen». Finally, the XXth century pieces from the Manuscrit de Chantilly played here are those written by Jacobus Senleches, composer of the court of Aquitaine.


The echo begins with the first sound, and shadows it. Music became an essential part of life when man realized sound as an idea, and not an accident. Ideas are echoes that ricochet without regard for time, space, or place. They are transcendental, transportational, transformational. Echoes haunt this program, this music—four contemporary compositions separated by three transmissions from the past. —

Art Lange


Paris, le 30/5/98

Dear Sir,

Thank you infinitely for sending the XASAX CD, of which the recording of my Quartet for saxophones pleased me a lot. (NB: XASAX, Ars Subtilior, Hat [now] ART 107).
You found the spirit and the letter, in particular for:
- The formal sequence and the tempi
- The soft attacks in a harmony always driven
- The relationships between theme and colors
- The tensions between registers
- The rhythmic accuracy
I am satisfied by the stylistic result : a climate of concern stands out even from an apathetic or deactivated material.
Very good editing and sound recording. Kindest regards to all and my friendship.

Hugues Dufourt

I listened with great pleasure to the last CD by XASAX Quartet (Ars Subtilior). I find it absolutely perfect, both from the general aesthetics standpoint and for the choice of works.
Your arrangements of Senleches are magnificent and lead us to listen with a "fresh" ear to the current repertory. Your performance is absolutely perfect and I particularly love your version of the quartet by Dufourt.
I wish you to make still numerous CDs as this one. I thank you and congratulate the four of you for this beautiful record and send my very friendly greetings to you.

                Claude Delangle, Professor in the Paris Conservatory