JESS GILLAM: Saxophones


The Sanctuary, Queen’s Cross Church, Aberdeen

Monday 11thFebruary, 2019


Up all the way to Aberdeen after her starring appearance in the Royal Albert Hall playing at the BAFTAS on Sunday, Aberdeen Chamber Music Concerts were delighted to welcome saxophonist Jess Gillam along with pianist Zeynep Őzsuca to give the penultimate concert in this season’s series. Unsurprisingly there was a huge and enthusiastic audience for Monday’s performance by these two equally talented musicians. They performed an astonishingly wide ranging programme of music from Dowland (1562 – 1626) up to Graham Fitkin, born in 1963. Every piece was a delight with Jess Gillam’s performances on soprano and alto saxophones making all the pieces sound very much from the A list of pieces. I was particularly impressed by her marvellous steady and unwavering pianissimo playing in so many of the pieces and closely linked with that, her ability to hold on to the full value of notes at the end of pieces sending the final notes floating so gently over our heads.

I was equally impressed by the stylistic breadth of pianist Zeynep Őzsuca in everything from jazz coloured pieces by the American composer Rudy Wiedoeft or Darius Milhaud to the two works that impressed me most, the Oboe Concerto by Alessandro Marcello (1673 – 1747) and Britten’s Temporal Variations. Interestingly enough, both pieces were originally composed for oboe but Jess Gillam’s performances on soprano saxophone made them both sound as if they were really meant for the soprano sax. Jess captured so much of the style and inflections of the original oboe settings proving that her deep understanding of the music of both composers was without parallel. In both of these works the marvellous synergy between the two performers really shone out. In Marcello’s Oboe Concerto the saxophone playing was elegant and beautifully well phrased with a dazzlingly piquant finale while the piano sang out with stylish grace. In Britten’s piece, the trenchant spiky piano interruptions helped raise the emotional power of the saxophone’s lines even more powerfully. I really loved this piece.

The concert began with two pieces each having a decidedly Spanish flavour. Pequena Czárdás had a decided flamenco-like panache from both instruments and then Ravel’s Pièce en forme de habanera reminded me at times of his famous Bolero which has two saxophone solos within it. Jess played this piece on her alto sax.

Although Michael Nyman is thought of as a minimalist composer and there is an element of that in If (from the diary of Anne Frank), it is more like a lovely sad melodic piece with a smooth continuous piano accompaniment.

John Harle, himself a saxophonist of note composed Rant!, a word which Jess told us meant ‘dance’ and this was certainly true. The folk dances actually made me think of Irish step dancing in its sheer liveliness. As a piece, it made me smile.

Folk Dances from Csik by Bartók was played very much in proper style, I was definitely transported to a Hungarian dance hall by this piece.

Graham Fitkin’s Gate was thoroughly minimalist in its construction particularly in the piano part but Jess Gillam was able to show how Fitkin was able to create so much out of basically a couple of notes as its main thematic basis.

Dowland’s Flow My Tears and Rudy Wiedoeft’s Valse Vanitéwere in a sense the popular if not pop music of their time although three hundred years apart. The performance by Jess and Zeynep showed just why they were so popular in their time.

The final piece in the official programme was Scaramouche by Darius Milhaud for alto sax and piano. In the central movement, Jess drew a special creaminess of sound out of her instrument in the attractive melody. How on earth did she manage that?

She told us that she was particularly fond of the finale with its Brazilian flavour. Well, yes! I loved it too.

The audience was not going to let our performers away with just that. A torrent of applause ensured an encore. In fabulous jazzy style, a perfect crowning item after the Milhaud, it was In A Sentimental Mood by Duke Ellington. Brilliant!

Jess Gillam and Zeynep Özsuca – 11th February 2019: Review