Best known as a jazzman, in recent years saxophonist Branford Marsalis has also appeared often in concert as a classical musician. It was as a soloist with the City Chamber Orchestra of Hong Kong that he made his Hong Kong debut.
The programme comprised four pieces, two of which featured Marsalis.
The orchestra, conducted by Alexandre Myrat, opened with the first of two compositions by Darius Milhaud, a jazz-influenced composer who in turn influenced jazz through his pupil, Dave Brubeck.
Le Boeuf Sur Le Toit is one of his best known works, inspired by Brazilian carnival music.
A spirited performance of it was well received by the audience before Marsalis joined the orchestra for Milhaud’s playful Scaramouche suite for alto saxophone.
Marsalis said before the concert that he had never performed the difficult first movement of this piece fully to his own satisfaction, but perhaps this was the night. It was certainly well received by a capacity crowd, many of whom, perhaps, were there because of Marsalis’s fame as a jazz musician, and broke the classical convention of not applauding between movements of a piece.
The Brazileira third movement of the suite, which, according to Marsalis, orchestras often play too fast, was taken at a brisk but not over-rushed pace, and Marsalis employed a warm, rich tone evoking some welcome south American sunshine, with notably swinging support from the orchestra.
After the intermission a smaller group of players returned to perform Robert Fuchs’ Serenade For Strings No 3. In E minor, which took us back to classical European territory, before Marsalis returned for Alexander Glazunov’s Concerto for Alto Saxophone in E flat major.
Following a brief delay with a little clowning around while a violinist went offstage to change a string, Marsalis and the orchestra plunged into the melancholic romanticism of the piece.
It includes a cadenza, which gave the soloist the opportunity to display some of the virtuosity associated with his jazz performances. Most of the work, however, is more reflective in nature, and Myrat took it at a pace which let the music breathe.
The programme completed, an enthusiastic audience kept calling Marsalis back, and in the end were rewarded with a brief unaccompanied solo performance of the 1930s jazz standard On The Sunny Side of the Street.
Featuring crossover soloists seems to be a City Chamber Orchestra speciality, and the enthusiastic response to Marsalis’s Hong Kong debut should encourage them to stick with it.
It would, however, be nice to see him return to play jazz with his acclaimed quartet, and perhaps the warm reception he received with the orchestra will encourage him to do that.
Branford Marsalis and the City Chamber Orchestra of Hong Kong, City Hall Concert Hall, April 27