AKMI Duo (Valentine Michaud, Akvilė Šileikaitė)
Hindemith / Gershwin / Schulhoff / Kovács / Albright

Der MaiHof, Lucerne, 2023-11-19

4.5-star rating

2023-12-03 — Original posting

AKMI Duo: Rezital und CD-Taufe “Beyond the Wall” — Zusammenfassung

Im Rahmen der vom Verein MaiHof Kultur in Luzern veranstalteten Konzerte präsentierte das AKMI Duo (Valentine Michaud, Saxophon, und Akvilė Šileikaitė, Klavier) ihre soeben veröffentlichte CD “Beyond the Wall” in einem spannenden Konzert. Die CD enthält vier Kompositionen:

  • Paul Hindemith (1895 – 1963): Sonate für Viola und Klavier No.1 in F-dur, op.11/4, arrangiert für Altsaxophon
  • William Albright (1944 – 1998): Sonate für Altsaxophon und Klavier
  • Erwin Schulhoff (1894 – 1842): Hot-Sonate für Altsaxophon und Klavier
  • Edison Denisov (1929 – 1996): Sonate für Altsaxophon und Klavier

Diese Werke überdecken einen Bereich von Spätromantik (Hindemith) zu Jazz (Schulhoff), bis hin zu gemäßigter (Albright) und radikalerer (Denisov) Moderne. Von diesen Kompositionen wählten die Musikerinnen die ersten drei für ihr Konzertprogramm—und sämtliche überzeugten technisch und musikalisch vollends!

Im Konzert folgte auf Hindemith noch ein raffiniertes Arrangement der bekannten 3 Préludes von George Gershwin (1898 – 1937), danach die jazzige Sonate von Schulhoff. Vor der abschließenden Sonate von Albright griff Valentine Michaud zum Sopransaxophon, für eine begeisternde Aufführung von Klezmer-Musik: Sholem-Alekhem, Rov Feidman! von Béla Kovács (1937 – 2021). Als Zugabe schließlich einige Minuten ungarischer Volksmusik: hinreißend und hochvirtuos, und absolut auf Augenhöhe mit Interpretation auf dem originalen Instrumentarium (Zymbal und Fiedel / Violine).

Das im Konzert nicht aufgeführte Werk aus der CD, die Sonate von Edison Denisov, wird in einem Anhang (zusammen mit einer Beschreibung der CD) kurz besprochen. Es braucht kaum erwähnt zu werden, dass der Autor die neue Aufnahme “Beyond the Wall” nur wärmstens empfehlen kann!

Table of Contents


Venue, Date & TimeChurch St.Joseph — MaiHof (Der MaiHof), 2023-11-19 17:00h
Series / TitleAKMI DuoRelease Party for the CDBeyond the Wall
OrganizerMaiHof Kultur
Reviews from related eventsConcerts in this venue
Reviews featuring the AKMI Duo
Concert reviews featuring Valentine Michaud
Concert reviews featuring Akvilė Šileikaitė

The Artists

The AKMI Duo emerged 2015, from the encounter of two music students at the ZHdK (Zurich University of the Arts):

This was my second encounter with the AKMI Duo: the two artists performed in a short recital preceding a concert in Zurich on 2019-05-26. In my review for that pre-concert recital, I have already presented the biographies for the two artists. In addition, I have written about separate concerts featuring the two artists individually—see the above links.


Setting, etc.

I was happy to receive Valentine Michaud’s short-term invitation to this duo recital—a pleasant surprise! The venue is a church that is now (also) used as event venue. The two artists performed in the center of the nave, closer to the southern wall. A curtain shielded off the church choir, making the room feel more like an event venue. The chairs for the audience were arranged in a half-circle (3 rows) between the artists and the northern wall of the nave. There were around 80 people in the audience—an almost intimate setting. Akvilė Šileikaitė performed on a small grand, the lid fully open.

Concert & Review

Paul Hindemith, 1923 (License: CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia commons)
Paul Hindemith, 1923

Hindemith: Sonata for Viola and Piano No.1 in F major, op.11/4 (arr.)

The Composer

Paul Hindemith (1895 – 1963) was not just a prominent composer and teacher in the first half of the 20th century, but also one of the leading violists of his time. Even though his first instrument was the violin. He played the second violin in the Rebner Quartett. In the first World War, he conscribed to the army and served in a regiment band in the Alsace and in Flanders. While in the army, he founded a string quartet. After the war, he returned as violist to the Rebner Quartett. Later, he founded the Amar Quartet (a.k.a. Amar-Hindemith Quartet), which was disbanded in 1933.

The Work

Hindemith’s op.11 is a collection of six sonatas for a string instrument, mostly with piano:

  • Violin Sonata No.1 in E♭ major, op.11/1 (1918)
  • Violin Sonata No.2 in D major, op.11/2 (1918)
  • Cello Sonata No.1, op.11/3 (1919)
  • Viola Sonata No.1 in F major, op.11/4 (1919)
  • Sonata for Solo Viola No.1, op.11/5 (1919)
  • Sonata for Solo Violin No.1, op.11/6 (1917)

Valentine Michaud transferred / arranged the Sonata for Viola and Piano No.1 in F major, op.11/4 for alto saxophone and piano. The work features the following three movements:

  1. Fantasie: Ruhig — Im Zeitmaß —
  2. Thema mit Variationen I – IV
    • Theme: Ruhig und einfach, wie ein Volkslied (calm and simple, like a folk song)
    • Variation I: Dasselbe Zeitmaß (same tempo)
    • Variation II: Ein wenig kapriziös (somewhat capriciously)
    • Variation III: Lebhafter und sehr fließend (more lively and very fluid)
    • Variation IV: Noch lebhafter (even more lively)
  3. Finale (mit Variationen V – VII)
    • Sehr lebhaft (very lively)
    • Variation V: Ruhig fließend (flowing calmly) — Sehr lebhaft (very lively)
    • Variation VI: Gemächliches Zeitmaß. Fugato, mit bizarrer Plumpheit vorzutragen (leisurely. Fugato, to be presented with bizarre clumsiness) — Im Hauptzeitmaß (in the principal tempo) — Wie vorhin leicht fließend (slightly flowing, as before) — Ruhig fließend (flowing calmly)
    • Variation VII: Coda: Sehr lebhaft und erregt (very lively and excited)

The movements (in particular movement III) are meant to be performed attacca.

The Performance

Hindemith’s viola part avoids double-stop & chord playing. There are very few exceptions, such as the pizzicato chords in the center (climax) of variation VI, and a few octave doublings in the last variation. The alto saxophone can easily cover the tonal range of the viola, so there isn’t even a need to transpose to another key: the sonata lends itself to a transfer onto the alto saxophone. The character of the two instruments is of course completely different. However, during the performance it was fascinating to picture a performance with the original instrumentation, and to experience what the saxophone does to this music!

Indeed: the imagined confrontation between viola and alto saxophone proved highly interesting, right from the first bars! In the original version, the viola appears embedded, almost hiding in the piano accompaniment, gentle, intimate, lyrical, at least up to the crescendo and climax in bars 14/15. The saxophone transcription inverts these relations: here, it is the piano which initially keeps in background. One could say that the saxophone dominates. However, one could equally state that with this, it reinstates the composer’s dynamic annotation—p for the melody instrument, pp for the piano:

I. Fantasie: Ruhig — Im Zeitmaß

Here, the focus is less on intimacy—relatively speaking, at least. Within the realm of the saxophone sonority, Valentine Michaud’s playing still was intimate, though. Primarily, however, the warmth, the beauty of the sonorous cantilena instantly created an expressive, wistful-melancholic atmosphere. The piano part initially was mostly just supporting, echoing the theme. It then gradually built up, leading the saxophone into the cadenza transition and first climax, joining its intensity. Late romantic? No, high romanticism par excellence, with a beautiful, melodious theme!

With the main section of the first movement, the music suddenly sounded like French impressionism. Valentine Michaud exploited the full dynamic and expressive potential of her instrument: from gentle, mellow passages up to intense cantilenas. Subtle passages across the tonal range, as well as powerful, highly intense climaxes with a smooth, clean tone. In all this, Akvilė Šileikaitė proved a subtle and congenial partner, closely attuned to the reed instrument. The close interaction between the two artists not only led to excellent coordination across Hindemith’s rubato, but also maintained a diligent balance between such different instruments.

II. Thema mit Variationen

To me, the theme depicted a gentle, serene, impressionist soundscape. Only occasional, subtle undertones in the harmonies indicated that this was not a composition by a French impressionist. The first variation did not feature a climax, but rather retracted into the finest ppp—a gentle summer wind playing in leaves? In variation II, it was primarily the virtuosic, but light piano part which initiated the capricious character of the music, gradually building up to a lively, vivid interaction with the saxophone. Hereby, Akvilė Šileikaitė’s playing remained firm throughout the challenges, but always left enough “space” for the saxophone part.

Variation III featured rolling lines of fast notes on the piano beneath a moody cantilena on the saxophone. The piano part builds up to virtuosic cascades and a climax that is at the same time the beginning of the last variation with its cascading fff octave parallels. The transition to the Finale is immediate.

III. Finale (mit Variationen)

In an abrupt transition, the character of the music changes completely. The first part of the Finale (Sehr lebhaft) is a dramatic recitative, with fff interjections on the piano. A (dramatically exaggerated) baroque reminiscence? However, that’s just a short episode which gives way to a segment with Asian-like, long, meandering melody lines, finally leading into a harmless, innocent, and serene theme: pure lyricism!

The transition to Variation V with the initial theme from the second movement is again seamless. The tone remains lyrical (Ruhig fließend), soft, melodious, gentle. Gradually, the piano initiates a more rhythmic section, full of syncopes, builds towards the fff climax, into a short return of the vehement recitative.

To me, variation VI (Gemächliches Zeitmaß. Fugato, mit bizarrer Plumpheit vorzutragen) is the most “Hindemithian” part of the sonata, maybe with allusions to expressionism. The central part of this variation is an extended version of the violent, affirmative recitative. Another beautiful, melodious segment follows, singing in both instruments, and again building up in intensity and playfulness, up to (almost) exhaustion.

The last variation / Coda begins playfully, gradually picks up drive, excitement, and polyphony, up to the affirmative ending in an elated mood.

Rating: ★★★★½

The transfer from the viola to the alto saxophone significantly changes the character of Hindemith’s composition. Nevertheless, Valentine Michaud and Akvilė Šileikaitė presented a compelling (re-)interpretation of this beautiful, multifaceted, interesting music! To me, it confirms that Hindemith is very much of an underrated composer!

George Gershwin, 1937 (public domain)
George Gershwin

Gershwin: Three Préludes

In the original program, the second composition was a work by Maurice Ravel (1875 – 1937): the first one, Kaddich: Yithgaddal weyithkaddash from Deux mélodies hébraïques (Two Hebrew Songs, M.A22 ). That work was eliminated in the final program. Not without replacement, though! Instead, the artists performed the well-known Three Préludes for piano (1926) by George Gershwin (1898 – 1937). This turned out to be an excellent arrangement by Valentine Michaud and Akvilė Šileikaitė.

The Work

The movements have the following annotations:

  1. Allegro ben ritmato e deciso (♩=100, B♭ major)
  2. Andante con moto e poco rubato (♩=88, C♯ minor)
  3. Allegro ben ritmato e deciso (♩=116, E♭ minor)

The pieces are fairly popular: the first Prélude starts with a blues motif and features a strong Jazz feel. That Jazz feeling persists in the second Prélude. The composer called the last one “Spanish”, with the main theme consisting of two melodies. There is a highly syncopated middle section.

The Performance

I. Allegro ben ritmato e deciso

Here, Valentine Michaud essentially took over the top (right-hand) voice from the piano score, in a brilliant, jazzy interpretation. I could not tell whether Akvilė Šileikaitė added anything to the original piano score (minus the top voice). However, the remaining voices certainly still left plenty of work for the pianist, up to the “steely” peak chords! I particularly liked Valentine Michaud’s glissando transitions in the initial motifs (and subsequent instances), the “jazziness” (“bluesiness”?), the rhythmic swinging, the drive, the momentum: an enthralling performance throughout!

II. Andante con moto e poco rubato

Now, this was very much an enhancement over Gershwin’s original, given Valentine Michaud’s frequent (and proper!) use of glissando, scale transitions and other, intense “jazzy” ingredients (articulation, dynamics, vibrato, etc.). None of this felt exaggerated, of course—quite to the contrary! In the latter part of the first C♯ minor segment, where on the piano the melody hides within the right-hand octaves, Valentine Michaud moved the cantilena up by an octave for a few bars—very seductive and gentle, almost like a flute!

The “most arranged” segment was the middle part (F♯ major). Here, the saxophone part sounded like a (masterfully and fittingly) improvised extra voice. However, Valentine Michaud did occasionally take over the melody voice. As Gershwin suggested, the artists repeated this part, with bass and descant swapped.

In the final C♯ minor segment, the AKMI Duo’s arrangement did not just repeat the opening. Rather, Akvilė Šileikaitė added imitations / echoes of the saxophone voice to the descant. Beautiful—I could listen to this music on end!

III. Allegro ben ritmato e deciso

I have little to add about the fastest and most virtuosic third Prélude: sparkling playful, ebullient—Jazz and saxophone at their best!

Rating: ★★★★★

Erwin Schulhoff & dancer Mayerova, 1931 (public domain)
Erwin Schulhoff

Schulhoff: Hot-Sonata for Alto Saxophone and Piano, WV 95

The Composer

The Austro-Czech composer Erwin Schulhoff (1894 – 1942) was born in Prague into a German-Jewish family. Encouraged by Antonín Dvořák (1841 – 1904), he started studying piano and composition at the Prague Conservatory when he was merely 10. He later continued his studies in Vienna, Leipzig, and Cologne. His teachers included Claude Debussy (1862 – 1918), Max Reger (1873 – 1916), Fritz Steinbach (1855 – 1916), and Willi Thern (1847 – 1911).

Schulhoff won prizes for piano and composition, but also served in the Austro-Hungarian army in WWI. After the war, he lived in Germany, but in 1923 moved back to Prague, where in 1929 he joined the faculty at the conservatory. From 1930 onwards, he experienced increasing problems, both because of his Jewish descent, as well as because of his sympathies for communism. He stayed in Prague, ultimately performing as radio pianist under a pseudonym after the Germans occupied Prague. 1941, he successfully applied for a citizenship on the Soviet Union. However, before he could leave, he was deported to a prison in Bavaria, where he died of tuberculosis.

The Work

In his compositions, Erwin Schulhoff went through several stylistic periods. The Hot-Sonata for Alto Saxophone and Piano, WV 95 (1930) is from his third period, his most prolific years as composer (a fourth period was dedicated to socialist realism). Typical for his third period, the sonata incorporates Jazz elements. There are four movements, merely bearing metronome numbers as principal annotation:

  1. ♩= 66
  2. 1/2 = 112
  3. ♩= 88
  4. 1/2 = 132 — ♩= 66 — 1/2 = 132

The Performance

In her short introduction, Valentine Michaud described the context in which Schulhoff created this sonata. It was crewated at a time when composers not only “discovered” Jazz, but also the saxophone. And Schulhoff’s “Hot-Sonate” is the first sonata written for alto saxophone and piano. The artist mentioned that at the time of the composition, the sonata also was a risky political statement, as the Nazi regime disliked all things American, in particular Jazz.

I. ♩ = 66

Excellent, Akvilė Šileikaitė’s concise piano part with its clustered chords, the Jazz swaying, and the rhythmic flexibility throughout the rubato. As for the latter: the composer’s metronome annotation merely indicates the initial / basic pace, to which the artists returned for the segments with the “trotting” staccato accompaniment. In the leggiero and dolce sempre, the tempo was discreetly more fluid—resulting in a “large scale swaying”.

The piano part is not without technical challenges. I did not watch Akvilė Šileikaitė’s hands. The impression in concert, however, was that of an effortless, near-perfect performance, and the coordination with the saxophonist was flawless at all time.

And Valentine Michaud could exploit the full spectrum of her abilities and instrument! Her tone ranged from subtle, seductive, flute-like in the descant, up to room-filling, powerful across the range, with striking, sudden accents. Through all this, her tone stayed smooth, clean, never “dirty”, “grainy”, as one often encounters in Jazz music. Of course, the small-note “extras” are part of the composition, as are the countless “upwards-glissando approaches” to (high) notes, so typical of brass and saxophone parts in Jazz music. Here, all this sounded like the artist’s personal, natural “language”.

II. 1/2 = 112

Highly virtuosic on both parts, especially also for the pianist—agile, playful, and full of drive: enthralling, up to the sudden, abrupt ending.

III. ♩ = 88

Above the moto ritmico stepping piano part (pp), the saxophone opens with a loud, whining lament: lamentoso ma molto grottesco describes accurately, what we heard: composed exaggeration! Rhythmically intricate, tricky! Valentine Michaud played out very expressive, impulsive dynamics, with strongly accented, sudden syncopes, explosive, short crescendi: capricious, joking, and fun! The provokingly dissonant piano interjections set a stark contrast to the expressive saxophone part. A prime example of excellent, composed Jazz!

Those slow, but prominent marcato G — G — E interjections in the piano descant: are these a parody to the opening of the Swiss children / folk song “D’Zyt isch do“?

"D'Zyt isch do" — Swiss folk song quote
D’Zyt isch do” — Swiss folk song quote
IV. 1/2 = 132

Highly rhythmic and virtuosic on both parts, full of Jazz syncopes and fast, “curly” triplet figures in the saxophone part: drive, momentum, forward-pull—enthralling again! Clearly, the artists were “living this music”, always close in their interaction. In the lyrical, elegiac middle part, Valentine Michaud appeared to “hang her ear into the piano”. That wasn’t because her instrument was too loud to hear the piano (it definitely wasn’t!), but it was in line with the intimacy of the introverted, “whispering” pp moments, which led into glittering chord garlands on the piano. The closing part was of course again strongly rhythmic, building up to a wild, erupting climax. Fascinating—and highly entertaining music!

Rating: ★★★★★

Béla Kovács (© Zeneakadémia)
Béla Kovács

Kovács: Sholem-Alekhem, Rov Feidman!

The Composer

Béla Kovács (1937 – 2021) was a Hungarian clarinetist who spent his professional career (1956 – 1981) in Budapest. He was teaching clarinet as professor at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music. At the same time, he also was principal clarinetist at the Hungarian State Opera Orchestra and the Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra. The number of Béla Kovács’ compositions is limited. Besides textbooks on clarinet technique and pieces with educational character (studies), he wrote a series of nine Hommages for clarinet solo, paying tribute to composers from Bach up to Khachaturian.

The Work

Kovács’ composition Sholem Alekhem, Rov Feidman! was originally written for clarinet, 2 violins, viola, cello, and double bass. Sholem Alekhem (Sholom Aleichem = peace be with you) is a tribute to Klezmer, the traditional music of the Ashkenazi Jews of Eastern and Central Europe. At the same time, Kovács salutes Giora Feidman (*1936), an Argentine-born Israeli clarinetist, known as “King of Klezmer“. The word Rov is a honorific for “master” or “teacher”.

The Performance

As Béla Kovács’ Sholem-Alekhem was originally written for clarinet, Valentine Michaud also brought along a soprano saxophone. As this music (at least the song) is so widely known and popular, the expectations on this performance must have been very high. So, how did the artists fare?

In short: I think that the interpretation by the AKMI Duo can easily stand next to Béla Kovács’ own performance. Sure, the composer’s interpretation is ultimately genuine and authoritative, and the one and only real benchmark—the place to go to for the original spirit of the music.

Valentine Michaud did of course not reinvent this piece—she must have listened to the composer’s recording. However, she not only aptly adopted the character of this piece, but (in her hands, at least) the (soprano) saxophone offers more power, greater and richer sonority. It seemed more expressive, more colorful, has a wider dynamic span—and it is closer to the human voice. It also seemed to offer more tonal clarity and directness than Kovács’ “folk clarinet”. At the same time, it retained the ability to perform all of Kovács’ “gimmicks” in articulation.

For sure, Valentine Michaud’s performance was virtuosic and addictive. And it captured the melancholy, the Yiddish character of this music so well: my first thought was that after this, there is no going back to the clarinet—fascinating!

Overall Rating: ★★★★★

William Hugh Albright (CC BY-NC-SA)
Wiliam Hugh Albright

Albright: Sonata for Alto Saxophone and Piano

The Composer

This was not my first encounter with a composition by William Hugh Albright (1944 – 1998). When I first witnessed the AKMI Duo in a live performance, their program featured two compositions. One of these was exactly the Sonata for Alto Saxophone and Piano that they have included in their CD “Beyond the Wall”, and which they now performed in their CD presentation concert. Rather than referring to my earlier review for a description of composer and work, let me simply cite the relevant part of that review:

William Hugh Albright was an American composer, pianist and organist. Born in Indiana, he started playing the piano at age 5. He received his musical education at Juilliard School (1959 – 1962), the Eastman School of Music (1962 – 1963), and the University of Michigan (1962 – 1970), with an interruption of one year (1968/69) that he spent in Paris, studying with Olivier Messiaen (1908 – 1992). For the remainder of his musical career, he taught as faculty at the University of Michigan.

The Work

Albright’s music combines a wide variety of styles, from both tonal and non-tonal classical to popular music, with influences from non-Western music. His Sonata for Alto Saxophone and Piano is from 1984 and has four movements:

  1. Two-Part Invention: Vivo, molto intenso, alla fanfara
  2. La follia nuova, a lament for George Cacioppo: Largo (Chaconne)
  3. Scherzo “Will o’ the wisp”: Sotto voce, “Will o’ the wisp”
  4. Recitative and Dance: Semplice ma con rubato — Mad Dance: Presto

The Performance

I don’t want to repeat myself. My review from the pre-concert performance on 2019-05-26 has already described the music, and how I experienced it as a listener. But sure, the interpretation has evolved over the past 4.5 years, and the acoustics / setting was entirely different now—so, let me try focusing on aspects not already covered in my earlier comments.

I. Two-Part Invention

The alleged link to Bach’s Two-Part Inventions (BWV 772 – 786) is definitely a rather distant, well-hidden one—at least for listeners without a score. A highly demanding piece, both for listeners and the musicians, featuring close rhythmic interaction, playing with stark contrasts in dynamics and extreme pitches. At times, the music seems to incorporate erratic, stochastic elements—and then again, there are strongly motoric segments. Clearly atonal (the “most contemporary” music in this concert), but nevertheless very impressive (and expressive!)—not the least in the powerful, final build-up—a menacing crescendo leading to a sudden ending.

II. La follia nuova: A lament for George Cacioppo

La follia nuova does not directly quote the original, ancient musical theme of the Folia, but rather just takes up the idea of a Ground, i.e., music on an ostinato bass, such as a Passacaglia. Calm, gentle, soft, intimate—an almost silent lament on the composer’s friend. A solemn, chorale-like theme enters the scene, followed by imitations, a canon—and intense weeping by the saxophone, intense memories, pain.

At times, the music appears to grow into orchestral dimensions. Recurring painful episodes (menacing rolling in the bass) in loneliness (soft, repeated tones / motifs), the vastness of space, the music vanishing in infinity? A new beginning, ppp, where Valentine Michaud plays into the piano: the composer writes “pppp (very muted)—turn away from audience… a private performance, perhaps looking into the piano” (taken from my last review). Recurring memories again, the chorale, and finally fateful tolling of bells—and no resolution… Gripping, touching, intense (and impressive) music!

III. Scherzo “Will o’ the wisp”

My last review stated: “Will o’ the wisp” — Ignis fatuus (in German: Irrlicht, i.e., errand light): erratically trembling chattering on the saxophone, the piano responding, growing into a lively dialogue / interplay, disappearing into quasi niente. An errand, softly chatting monologue, shy, intimate, retained, then getting flickering, widely straying responses, which in turn cause the saxophone to flicker, too. A movement between sad, ghastly loneliness and near-chaotic turmoil, reaching out into the extremes of the keyboard.

IV. Recitative and Dance

The Recitative opened with an extended, beautiful, expressive-reflective monologue. After a short pause, the monologue resumes, but then gradually evolves into waves, garlands of short notes, eventually getting lost, vanishing. The Mad Dance suddenly breaks the silence—highly motoric, machine-like, loud: an image of our current times! One could see the industrial world in this, with episodes of traffic chaos breaking in, maybe crowds of wildly interacting people. After a culmination, the dance rapidly retracts. A short reminiscence of the dance beat—and a sudden eruption ends the piece.

Overall Rating: ★★★★★

Brilliant, fascinating music throughout. And, given that the AKMI Duo has this in their repertoire for several years already, it was no surprise that they presented a compelling and enthralling interpretation and performance.


For the encore, Valentine Michaud announced something “completely different”. And indeed, we found ourselves in a completely different realm—the world of Hungarian folk music! A whirling dance with dramatic accelerations in several waves, extreme virtuosity on both parts, but especially Valentine Michaud, who was imitating the furious, wild chases of a fiddle. Akvilė Šileikaitė not only effortlessly mastered the virtuosic piano part—she also managed to imitate the sound of a cymbalom. Most breathtaking, for sure!


The author would like to thank Valentine Michaud for the invitation to this concert.

The CD to the Concert

AKMI Duo, "Beyond the Wall" (CD cover)

AKMI Duo “Beyond the Wall”
Works by Hindemith, Albright, Schulhoff, Denisov

Valentine Michaud, saxophone; Akvilė Šileikaitė, piano

Avie Records AV2641 (CD, stereo, ℗ / © 2023)
Booklet: 20 pp., en/de/fr

AKMI Duo, "Beyond the Wall" (CD, UPC-A barcode)

The Contents of the CD

The CD “Beyond the Wall” features three of the works that the artists performed in this recital, plus a composition by Edison Vasilievich Denisov (1929 – 1996):

  • Paul Hindemith: Sonata for Viola and Piano No.1 in F major, op.11/4 [ total: 17’04”]
    1. Fantasie [2’57”]
    2. Thema mit Variationen [3’57”]
    3. Finale (mit Variationen) [10’10”]
  • William Albright: Sonata for Alto Saxophone and Piano [total: 18’43”]
    1. Two-Part Invention [4’21”]
    2. La follia nuova: A lament for George Cacioppo [8’11”]
    3. Scherzo “Will o’ the wisp” [1’54”]
    4. Recitative and Dance [4’17”]
  • Erwin Schulhoff: Hot-Sonata for Alto Saxophone and Piano (1930) [total: 14’49”]
    1. ♩ = 66 [4’15”]
    2. 1/2 = 112 [1’50”]
    3. ♩ = 88 [4’09”]
    4. 1/2 = 132 [4’35”]
  • Edison Denisov: Sonata for Alto Saxophone & Piano [total: 11’08”]
    1. Allegro [3’22”]
    2. Lento [3’25”]
    3. Allegro moderato [4’21”]

Overall duration: 61’43”

CD Review

As far as music and interpretation are concerned, I regard my concert review as adequately applying to these pieces by Hindemith, Albright, and Schulhoff on the CD. Let me just add a few words on the piece that was not included in the recital program:

Edison Denisov, 1975 (photo © Dmitri Smirnov)
Edison Denisov, 1975

The Extra Composer: Edison Vasilievich Denisov (1929 – 1996)

Denisov was a Russian composer, born in Tomsk (Siberia). I’m quoting from his biography on Wikipedia, which refers to him as a member of the so-called “Underground“, “alternative” or “nonconformist” division of Soviet music:

Initially, Denisov studied mathematics, before he decided to become a composer. That decision received enthusiastic support by Dimitri Shostakovich (1906 – 1975), from whom Denisov took lessons in composition. He did his main musical studies at the Moscow Conservatory. There, he had Vissarion Shebalin (1902 – 1963) as composition teacher. His piano teacher was Vladimir Belov (1906 – 1989). Denisov graduated in 1956, then became a teacher in orchestration and composition, with a large list of eminent Soviet musicians. 1979, he was blocklisted for having participated in festivals of Soviet music in the West. However, when the Association for Contemporary Music was reestablished in Moscow in 1990, he became its leader. Still, he moved to France, where he died near Paris, a few years later.

Denisov’s first major composition was an opera. Subsequent works cover a broad range of genres. There are two symphonies, concertos for a variety of solo instruments, songs and choral works, works for voice and chamber ensemble, few works for piano, and a large array of chamber music. Wind instruments play a prominent role in Denisov’s oeuvre. The Sonata for Alto Saxophone and Piano, dedicated to the saxophonist Jean-Marie Londeix (*1932), is a prominent example. Denisov wrote for eminent artists, such as the flautist Aurèle Nicolet (1926 – 2016), the violinist Gidon Kremer (*1947), the oboist Heinz Holliger (*1939), clarinetist Eduard Brunner (1939 – 2017).

Denisov’s Sonata for Alto Saxophone and Piano (1970)

Even though it was composed 14 years before Albright’s sonata, Denisov’s work is clearly the “most contemporary” one on the CD “Beyond the Wall”. It is more abstract / less pictorial (“absolute music”, in a way), more radical:

I. Allegro

The first movement seems to combine elements of minimal music with aspects of dodecaphony, maybe also stochastic elements. If this sounds chaotic or “too wild”: it isn’t! In many ways, the short movement feels play- and joyful, fun, and even appears to allude to modern (post-war) Jazz, if not French music from the first half of the 20th century—Erik Satie (1866 – 1925), maybe? For some, it may take some “giving in to this music” to enjoy the piece—but then, as stated, I can assure that it is fun to listen to!

II. Lento

The slow movement is a study in “unusual sonorities and colors” on the saxophone: the piano only appears in a short ppp interjection. Ethereal sounds of the spheres, emerging from afar: Two-part tones, microtonality, wide, rapid tremolos, smooth and rough, overtone-rich sonorities—all calm, very subtle in the soft parts. Highly reflective—and very interesting!

III. Allegro moderato

With the last movement, we find ourselves in the world of modern Jazz: strongly rhythmic, full of jazzy syncopes, often driven by the pianist’s left hand. Then again, the piece is very close to the bizarre and characteristic, unique world of studies by György Ligeti (1923 – 2006): virtuosic, technically and musically demanding. However, with these artists, one tends to forget the technical challenges! Fascinating, entertaining, fun, excellent, and again highly interesting

General Comments on Recording, etc.

The pieces on the CD cover a vast range of techniques, styles, and expressions, and essential parts of the scope of music for saxophone. It’s an achievement for which I can only congratulate the artists and express my admiration for their art!

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