Review by Paul Wagner
In recent years, the saxophone family of friends and players has been growing in leaps and bounds. The literature abounds with transcriptions and original material for solos and ensembles in all styles. Soprano and alto saxophones predominate at this party, and there is still a strong representation of tenor saxophones. In all this attention the baritone seems to have been over looked or even worse ignored. Of course, it is extremely important in quartet or ensembles but as a classical solo instrument it has never really caught on. It is not the listener’s fault, they can’t enjoy what they can’t hear. The CD Finesse changes that condition as it features Todd Oxford as a classical baritone saxophone soloist. Todd Oxford has toured extensively throughout the world. He began his studies on saxophone at the age of thirteen. After receiving many young artist awards he initiated his advanced studies with Harvey Pittel at the University of Texas. With only two years of study completed and having amassed further awards and recognition Todd was invited to join the Harvey Pittel Saxophone Quartet. He was the youngest member in the twenty-five year history of this grand quartet. He credits the quartet for really sharpening his skills on the baritone. In addition to his heavy performance schedule with the quartet he finds time to appear as a soloist of all the saxophones. In the beginning of the saxophone’s concert life the artists had to develop their own repertoire or at least cajole composers to write for their instrument. Todd Oxford is faced with that same predicament; the concert library for the baritone saxophone is relatively thin. “Despite the flattering observations by Hector Berlioz in 1842 regarding the unveiling of Adolphe Sax’s new baritone saxophone, today’s classical music lovers are largely unaware of its capabilities as a captivating solo instrument. Its gorgeous rich tone is a solo voice demanding attention. The Baritone Saxophone produces a wide range of tone color, dynamic variation and dazzling technical possibilities. My love of performing a variety of musical styles and the ability of the instrument to encompass these styles has inspired me to expand the concert repertoire by arranging works from the instrumental voices in the same tessitura. As a result of performing two middle movements of Bach’s First Suite for Cello in concert with the HPSQ I became interested in performing the entire work. I approached the world famous virtuoso Cellist Paul Olefsky for coaching, who further suggested I transcribe the Franck Sonata in A Major for violin and piano.” From these beginning thoughts the CD Finesse has emerged with Todd Oxford and his baritone saxophone. Todd Oxford is an outstanding soloist. His sound on the baritone is superb and varies from being robust and resonant to a gentle wisp that lightly sweeps through the room. At times he even takes on qualities similar to a cello. At times the listener can almost hear the nonexistent bow. His technique is extremely quick, precise, and always sounds effortless. His articulation could not be any better than it is. His abilities allow him to transcend the apparatus of the music and allow him to communicate with the essence of the music. Todd Oxford has definitely become one with the baritone saxophone. The opening selection is the Sonata in A Major for violin and piano by César Franck. Immediately you are struck with beautiful sound of the baritone and how well it works with the piano. The pianist is Carla McElhaney and deserves full and equal kudos for the creation of this excellent duo. The Sonata becomes a living entity in this duo’s more than capable hands. The lines just flow and swirl in your ears. And by the time you can think, “That’s a baritone saxophone,” it no longer matters because the musicality has caught up to you. Now you think well this is the way it is supposed to be. The full range of the baritone is used throughout the piece and in the second movement there is a section that showcases the beauty of the low register. The performance is just excellent; two artists giving new life to a beautiful piece of music. From here on Todd Oxford goes unaccompanied with three famous composers. The very next selection is the Bach Suite No. 1 for unaccompanied Cello in G Major. This is fantastic! It is hard to believe that this piece was not written for either the baritone or Todd Oxford because this is such a perfect fit. Todd allows Bach to sing through the baritone and the listener’s get the thrill. The Bozza Improvisation et Caprice came out beautifully on the baritone but the real surprise is hearing how well Paul Bonneau’s Caprice en Forme de Valse sounds on the baritone and how extremely well it was performed by Mr. Oxford. This is a beautiful CD performed by an outstanding artist who has a musical soul as big as his Baritone. This CD should be in your CD player as soon as you can put it there. It is a performance to be long remembered and savored.
CLARINET AND SAXOPHONE MAGAZINE OF GREAT BRITAIN
Review by Susan McKenzie
Todd Oxford\'s performing career has taken him worldwide (from Nova Scotia and Bangkok to Lisbon and his native USA), to much critical acclaim. After beginning his studies at the age of thirteen he went on to study with Harvey Pittel at the University of Texas and, after winning many young artists awards, was invited to join the Harvey Pittel Saxophone Quartet - the youngest member in the twenty-five year history of this prestigious ensemble.
He has dedicated his career to making today’s music lovers more aware of the baritone saxophone\'s capabilities as a solo instrument. It is true that the instrument is overlooked, as anyone who has ever played baritone in a quartet or wind band will know, but with this record Mr. Oxford demonstrates the kind of rich tone colour and dazzling technique that can be achieved. He also shows how the baritone can express musical ideas and communicate emotion on a par with any other solo instrument.
In order to expand the instrument\'s repertoire and to show how it can encompass other musical styles Oxford often arranges works from other instruments. The first of these being the famous Violin and Piano Sonata in A major by Cesar Franck (in which he is joined by award-winning McElhaney). The result is a very lyrical performance with beautiful phrasing and a pure, singing tone. For the next track on the recording, Bach\'s Suite No. 1 in G major (originally for unaccompanied cello), the saxophonist approached the world famous virtuoso cellist Paul Olefsky for coaching. Again, this performance demonstrates Mr. Oxford’s extraordinary command of this instrument as well as his high level of musicianship. He manages to almost soar around the instrument (especially in the Prelude) and make it sound light and graceful even in the lower register - no mean feat on baritone!
The final two tracks, Bozza\'s Improvisation and Caprice and Bonneau\'s Caprice en Forme de Valse, are performed with equal panache, virtuosity and just the right amount of quirky playfulness that is required. It perhaps would have been nice to hear something more modern in the programming but with such exceptional playing who can complain? An inspiration to baritone players everywhere!
Todd Oxford\'s CD, \"Finesse\" (Equilibrium), is a great classical music album by any standard of measure. I would recommend this CD to not just lovers of saxophone music, but all lovers of the music of Cesar Franck, J. S. Bach, and the Post-Impressionist French composers. A fan of Yo Yo Ma\'s cello recordings, for example, would find Mr. Oxford\'s well, Mr. Oxford shows a true mastery of the magnificent baritone saxophone (which I read from another magazine article is, stunningly, an auxiliary to his true \"home base\" (alto and soprano saxophones). This is manifested throughout the recording with consistently rich, vibrant, and even tone quality, musical lines with commitment and conviction, and a deep musical understanding of the various styles of music recorded here. It is easy to see why he is currently so active as a soloist, saxophone artist, and music educator.
Jim Butler - Tokyo, Japan - September 6, 2004
Dr. Oxford shows a true mastery of the magnificent baritone saxophone (which I read from another magazine article is, stunningly, an auxiliary to his true \\\"home base,\\\" alto and soprano saxophones). His abilities seem limitless, and we are all eagerly awaiting his next album.
E-MAN - Denton, TX - October 11, 2003
Why don\\\'t you own this yet?!? This CD is awesome. It\\\'s great to listen to, and can be used as a tool to learn from. To hear someone that controls the bari saxophone in such a way is almost unheard of. Todd displays his ability as a performer, whether playing fast or slow, to make the songs sound effortless. I especially enjoyed listening to such arrangements as Franck\\\'s Sonata and Bozza\\\'s Improvisation et Caprice for how Dr. Oxford makes the songs his own through his interpretations and styles. This CD is great, so why you do not own it is beyond me.
A music fan - McAllen, TX - December 5, 2002
Dr. Oxford takes the Baritone Sax to its great limits . . . \\\"Thank you very much Dr. Oxford. You have finally given us the first classical baritone saxophone recording ever. Not to mention that also sounds great! The interpretations are outstanding and the control is obvious throughout the recording. Bravo, especially in the Bach!\\\"
Classical Lover - Texas - July 27, 2002
\\\"This is awesome!!!!! Where did this guy get such talent? He is young and already matured into a fantastic musician. I urge anyone who appreciates really enormous talent to buy this CD.\\\"
A music fan - Texas - July 24, 2002
\\\"This piece is breathtaking!!! The power of the bari is shown so very beautifully in this Franck piece. The artist has exceptional tone and range and Oxford plays with sensitivity, allowing the piano it\\\'s place in the piece. Never have I heard the bari played in this way. Thank you, Todd Oxford, for taking this wind instrument to it\\\'s outer limits.\\\"
Will Kelley - Austin, TX - July 15, 2002
Great . . . \\\"This was one of the best CD\\\'s of classical baritone saxophone I have ever listened to. Wait a minute, this is one of not many out there. I really enjoyed it and can\\\'t wait for his quartet to come out with their new one.\\\"
Michael Christensen - Norman, OK - February 14, 2002
Bari Sax Rules . . . “I bought this album because I believe that the bari sax can have a very beautiful sound if it is played correctly. Todd did a wonderful job with this recording in proving that. The Bach Cello Suite is played masterfully. The Bonneau, and the Bozza . . . very stable and precise technique. I like this album a lot. It gives me a chance to get away from the alto sax for an hour or so. --Thanks Todd.”
Sydney Randall - Redwood City, CA - December 4, 2001
Oxford shows what classical baritone is about . . . “His playing is smooth and lyrical, and he has a nice soft sound. But he also shows the power behind the baritone playing. His technique on Bozza’s Improvisation and Caprice is flawless, but his treatment of the Bach Cello Sonatas is just beautiful. This is a classical saxophone album you can play for your string player friends.”
T. Castleberry - Denver, CO - April 28, 2000
A relief to finally hear a good bari recording . . . “I’m a bari player myself, and it’s wonderful to finally have a whole recording of “classical” baritone saxophone. Mr. Oxford is very talented, and his technique is flawless -- I’ve played the Improvisation and Caprice, and know that it is not an easy piece, especially at the tempo chosen by Mr. Oxford. Though his transcriptions are very well done, I would love to hear Mr. Oxford play some more modern saxophone literature, whether for baritone or not. Once again, I applaud a fine CD to help establish that though the baritone saxophone is large, it is no less nimble than any of its smaller relatives.”
A music fan from Texas - March 10, 2000
Nice playing . . . “Very nice recording. I really loved the Allegro from the Sonata in A Major and the Bozza and Bonneau works. I am trying to play Caprice en Forme de Valse on the baritone also, and this is a great tool.”
A music fan from New York - February 4, 2000
WOW . . . “Todd is a master of the baritone saxophone. I think his performance of the Bach cello suites is the definitive recording for all saxophonists to listen to. His playing of the standard alto repertoire on the baritone is also an amazing accomplishment. Thank you Todd for giving baritone players a wonderful recording as a reference to know what the horn should sound like.”
H.W. Ronald Tutt - Dallas, TX - January 17, 2000
A wonderful example of Baritone Saxophone . . . “Mr. Oxford displays his complete dynamic control and technical proficiency of the baritone saxophone. His command of the instrument is second to none and demonstrates the finest of classical saxophone performance. In a genre dominated by alto saxophone recordings it is refreshing to discover a recording that allows the listener to hear the robust, yet delicate qualities of the instrument in the hands of a true artist.”