Allen Harrington / Lottie Enns-Braun: Vanishing Point
Ravello Records

“The saxophone and organ are wind instruments that rarely occupy the same space at the same time,” states organist Lottie Enns-Braun on the inner sleeve to Vanishing Point. “It is our contention that this seemingly incongruous combination is actually quite perfect. These instruments are distinctive, yet there are moments when their sounds are virtually one and the same.” There's no better argument to support her contention than the recording itself, on which her organ and Allen Harrington's saxophone blend wonderfully. That being said, the union isn't so complete that a clear separation between them isn't retained; on all nine of the recording's selections, the singing tone of Harrington's woodwind is clearly audible alongside the warm tones of the organ.

The two began performing as a duo in 2005, and, in fact, it was Canadian composer Denis Bédard's Sonate I (included on the release) that was the catalyst for the partnership's formation. Like Bédard, all but two of those whose works are featured on the fifty-five-minute release are living composers who still actively compose. When not performing with each other, Harrington teaches saxophone, bassoon, and chamber music at the University of Manitoba, while Enns-Braun is the organist and director of music at Young United Church in Winnipeg and organist at the University of Manitoba.

Vanishing Point is a recording with much to recommend it: fourteen of the sixteen tracks are in the one- to four-minute range and make their cases with admirable dispatch; mellifluous melodies are emphasized within these tonal settings, never more appealingly so than in Bédard's Sonate I; and appealing too is the pure tone of Harrington's playing, the saxophonist eschewing any hint of abrasiveness in his execution.

At the outset, a celebratory tone is established in Ton Verhiel's Baroque-inspired Partita Breve (written for the 1992 World Saxophone Congress) by the fanfare-like “Prelude” and the quietly affirmative lyricism of the “Menuett and Trio.” Even at this early juncture, Vanishing Point shows itself to be a collection of many moods, the dignified solemnity of “Hymne” standing in dramatic contrast to the effusive joy expressed elsewhere. Bédard's Sonate I frames the spirited light-heartedness of “Invention” and “Humoresque” with the delicate romantic splendour of its dream-like “Barcarolle,” whereas a far different tone of anguish and dismay is conveyed by Augusta Read Thomas's Angel Tears and Earth Prayers, both composed in 2006 and recorded immediately after the Paris attacks of November 2015.

Based on a tenth-century liturgical chant melody, Guy de Lioncourt's Kyrie setting Clémens Rector achieves an affecting poignancy in no more than two minutes. As moving are the arrangements Frederick Hemke contributed to the project of two Norwegian folk songs, short though they might be, while Eugène Bozza's Chanson à bercer, a lullaby the duo often performs as an encore, proves haunting. Canadian composer Leonard Enns flouts convention in having his three-part title track move from the high energy and intense activity of its opening (“Con vivo”) to an end (“Adagio”) characterized by tranquility rather than the more conventional approach that sees a work build to a loud climax. Ample stylistic and emotional ground is covered by Harrington and Enns-Braun on this high-quality effort, and in consistently satisfying manner. The saxophone-and-organ combination is certainly effective, but the diverse programme of material the duo presents argues strongly for the release, too.

December 2016