Saxophonist Rob Burton with pianist Ashley Fripp at St James Piccadilly


St James Piccadilly have started up their lunchtime recitals in central London today opening with a recital from saxophonist Rob Burton and pianist Ashley Fripp in an event staged by Royal Overseas League.

What prompted me to attend wasn’t only Rob’s highly effective social media and supportive marketing team but also the promise of a performance of Cesar Franck’s joyous sonata in A Major (which I believe might have been arranged by saxophonist Jean-Yves Fourmeau).

The Franck is a seminal work in terms of my appreciation of music.

Back in 1989, I page-turned for a schoolmate who performed it in a school concert with then Head of Music (the late) James Recknell accompanying. I remember it as an epic work. Serious stuff. Passionate. Melodramatic. I found it difficult to understand how someone the same age as me was able to tackle something quite so grown up.

It was the first time I recall hearing someone (the schoolmate was violinist Rebecca Burman) talking in visceral terms about what was so fantastic about the Franck sonata she loved playing. That same principle of authentic passion remains true to what Thoroughly Good is about today.

If Thoroughly Good has a theme choon the Franck A Major sonata would be it.

So that’s why I wanted to hear the arrangement for alto saxophone (following the discovery of a short clip on Instagram featuring Royal Overseas League winner Jonathan Radford playing it in rehearsal). I had no idea there was such an arrangement. I now discover there’s even an arrangement for baritone sax too.

Rob Burton’s interpretation brought out the passion in the work, but with a softer, rounder, and fuller sound. This created a fuller heartfelt statement, almost as though the saxophone was able to get at the core of the music in a way that perhaps the violin (for which the work was originally written) doesn’t in comparison.

What I especially appreciated throughout Burton’s performance was the way in which the upper register at the top of a crescendo or in the full-on fortissimo phrase seemed to bloom every time. The support that underpins these moments is impressive, not least because it is reliable and consistent.

These moments are if you like the theatrical ‘reveal’ – a kind of tonal denouement that brings a similar smile to the face like an unexpected by well-deployed key change. Similarly arpeggiated leaps to the top of the register – musical fireworks. Two of Burton’s party tricks perhaps.

The Royal Overseas League Edinburgh Fringe Concerts are because of COVID hosted in London in 2021. Discover more about who’s on and when (and what they’re playing) here.

St James Piccadilly’s Lunchtime Concerts continue throughout the summer. More details on STJP’s website.