ASQ's 'Renaissance Sax' is one for the ages

Works reviewed: 
L'homme arme, Josquin Desprez
Absalon Fili Mi, Josquin Desprez
De Profundis Clamavi, Josquin Desprez
Salve Regina, Josquin Desprez
O bone et dulcissime Jesu, Josquin Desprez
Missa Pange lingua, Josquin Desprez
Harfleur Song, Paul Harvey
Vue sur les Jardins Interdits (1973), Henri Pousseur
Suite Francaise (1935), Francis Poulenc
The Buffalo News
Buffalo, NY
Oct 29 1999
By: 
Herman Trotter

For sheer, unadulterated beauty, this concert must rank as one of the most memorable in the Amherst Saxophone Quartet's 22 years of public life. The program's title is "Renaissance Sax," chosen because all the music is either from, or related in some way to, that period (approximately 1400-1600 A.D.) in musical history.

Seven transcriptions of music by Josquin Desprez by the ensemble's soprano Susan Fancher and baritone Harry Fackelman must be considered its centerpiece. Desprez (c. 1440-1521) is a Flemish composer considered the greatest of the Renaissance. According to Nicolas Slonimsky, he achieved a complete union between word and tone, creating expressive and beautiful art forms displaying the beauty of both Netherlandish counterpoint and Italian homophony.

With an impeccable sense of tonal balance, the ASQ displayed all these characteristics supremely well, even without the crutch of words to lean against. The opening declamatory "L'homme arme," played while standing, was followed by "Absolon fili mi," with its firmly undergirding baritone support and haunting sense of repeated descending lines. The faster moving "De profundis clamavi" followed, with its great clarity and easily followed polyphonic lines turning in on themselves. It all seemed the kind of beauty that made one wonder, for the moment at least, why anyone felt the need to go beyond that.

But there were four more Josquin works to go, including some cat-and-mouse counterpoint in "Salve Regina" and an intriguing alto-baritone duo in the middle of the solidly constructed "O bone et dulcissime Jesu."

But the crown may have been two sections from the "Missa Pange Lingua." In the extremely sonorous Gloria there was a fascinating interplay between upper and lower reeds and, saving the best for last, in the rather lengthy Sanctus the instruments engaged canonic duos, first by soprano and alto, then later baritone and tenor, all holding the attention with a riveting intensity. If you can't get to the repeat concert, take heart. This and more Desprez will be recorded by the ASQ for release next year.

In other works, there was "The Harfleur Song" by Paul Harvey, richly sonorous with a lot of challenges and responses like a spirited conversation, and seven brief, delightful John Dowland songs. Henri Pousseur's 1973 "Vue sur les Jardins interdits," the best work I've heard by this composer, was full of easy but real dissonances, a slowly measured piece with references to old styles buried within. The exquisite little "Suite Francaise" by Poulenc had many treasures like the prayerful "Pavane" in autumn browns and golds.

ASQ's 'Renaissance Sax' is one for the ages