Friday, July 7, 2017

Marcel Mule Plays Ibert and Debussy

Marcel Mule, who was born in France in 1901 and died a hundred years and six months later, was one of the 20th century's pioneers of the classical saxophone. He is the father of the French school of saxophone playing, and scores of pieces were written for him. If the extremes of his style - a fast, almost nervous vibrato, a sometimes harsh, almost metallic, sound, and a tendency to go sharp at the ends of notes - have been modified and softened by his followers, his musicianship and influence endures.

This early-50s Capitol 10" LP finds Mule playing two French compositions for saxophone and orchestra. The Ibert  Concertino is one of the best and most well-known pieces for saxophone and orchestra (or chamber orchestra, in this case), and Mule's reading is somewhat dated in several respects, such as his avoidance of the altissimo passages - those sections utilizing the notes above the "normal" range of the saxophone.

Mule's recording of the Debussy Rhapsodie, on the other hand, is among my favorite versions of this piece. That might not be saying much - Debussy was not enthusiastic about writing the Rhapsodie, and it might be his weakest work. But the Rhapsodie is not without its charms, and Mule brings out the best of what Debussy put into it.

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