Review / Masterful performance by saxophonist Nick

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Sax virtuoso Nick Russoniello. Photo by Jacquie Manning
PRESENTED by the Canberra Symphony Orchestra in association with Prof Brian and Dianne Anderson, the Recital Series offers a musical glimpse into a solo artist, a few days before their principal engagement with the full orchestra.
Sax virtuoso Nick Russoniello played a 50-minute solo recital, showcasing six instruments from the saxophone family, giving the audience a fascinating insight into the capabilities of each instrument and unveiling many unusual uses and playing techniques for each one. He is an outstandingly accomplished performer and a master of all his instruments.Beginning with an off-stage improvisation that served as an effective entrance, he morphed into the Telemann “Fantasia No.1 in A major”, a sparkling Baroque piece  that also highlighted the repertoire he played as a student in many parts of the world.

The program was interspersed with his own informative and interesting dialogue, briefly about his career to date, the instruments he plays and the relationship they have to each piece.

Shifting from soprano sax to the tenor, we were treated to the first of three original compositions by Russoniello. His “Megalania” (The Lizard Monster) is an indigenous-inspired piece, utilising guttural utterances, harmonic effects and didgeridoo sounds to achieve primitive tribal effects.

Britten’s “Six Metamorphoses After Ovid” followed, in six movements. Each one is a musical portrayal of a character from Roman mythology. In this the player chose, in order, soprano, tenor, baritone, sopranino, C melody and alto saxophones to illustrate and create the desired musical depiction of each deity.

His own “The New South” followed and this time featured circular breathing, another indigenous performance technique and one that he said took several months to master. The piece is inspired by a guitar duo he sometimes plays with and, in this regard, he was able to mimic a rhythmic accompaniment as well as melody, effectively creating a one-person duet. It was very clever and entertaining and has also been performed by other saxophone players around the world.

His final, original piece was “Dawn Searching”, which recreates birdlife in the wild, using the soprano sax.

The closing number, Cockcroft’s “Rock Me” is, as the name suggests, inspired by rock music. Played on the baritone sax, it had a driving pulse and an intense rhythmic feel, coloured with raunchy screaming melody splashes, reminiscent of slap bass or slap guitar. People around the room were padding their feet mildly, tapping along and very much enjoying the groove.

A soprano sax encore had me, and I think many others, misty eyed – Leonard Cohen’s “Halleluja” – slow, mournful and beautifully delicate.

Nick Russoniello will perform with the Canberra Symphony Orchestra on Wednesday, September 5, and Thursday, September 6, in a program where he is the featured soloist in Debussy’s “Rhapsody for Alto Sax and Orchestra” and Milhaud’s “Suite for Saxophone and Orchestra – ‘Scaramouche’”. In addition, he will play within the orchestra for Ravel’s “Bolero”.

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