Changes in direction mark two Amherst Sax works

Works reviewed: 
Quartet No. 1 (1992), Stephen Parisi
Quintet for Violin and Saxophones (1988), Stephen Parisi
Third Quartet, Robert Myers
Buffalo News
Buffalo, NY
Feb 10 1992
Herman Trotter

Sunday's program by the Amherst Saxophone Quartet was essentially a two-man show. The entire second half was devoted to the music of Grand Island composer Stephen Parisi and the first half spotlight shone on Robert Myers, whose Third Quartet was displayed as second prize winner in the ASQ's International Composition Competition.

Almost lost in the shuffie was the very brief Bach Prelude and Fugue in A minor transcribed by Philharmonic hornist Lowell Shaw. His sonorous setting of the Prelude and engagingly chuffy treatment of the angular Fugue made an ideal program opener.

Myers is a faculty member at Boston's Berklee School of Music, arguably the nation's leading jazz institution. Was Myers' work jazz? Not really, although music detectives could find its influences lurking here and there.

I didn't find it disagreeable in any way, just inscrutable. The first movement, marked "Robust," seemed largely aimless wandering punctuated by moments of bracing, hard-edged unison passages. The second and final movement is a double theme and variations.

Myers is obviously extremely knowledgeable about reed instruments. His music is full of fascinating textures, his sonic palette is always changing in almost kaleidoscopic fashion, and the quiet concluding chord was satisfying in a way which almost convinced that his music was not inscrutable, just misunderstood.

Parisi's music was a welcome antidote. The first movement of his recently completed Saxophone Quartet (11 years in the works) was also full of changes in direction, but with much more apparent reason and effect. It's sort of like a pastiche of old baroque dances updated, richly scored and bitingly harmonized, the second an easy swinging reverie and the finale a high velocity, chattery and syncopated romp, extraordinarily well played.

There were three brief premieres. "Marquez" for solo tenor, played By Rosenthal, was a very thoughtful and measured expansion of great inner beauty of the soulful melody played at the outset, while Sal Andolina and Russ Carere played "4 Pieces for 2 Clarinets," engaging miniatures in chirping sonority and playful canonic imitation. "I Sugo" was an innovation, with Harry Fackelman's baritone sax joined by marimbist Raymond Bennett in patterns of considerable rhythmic excitement and some unusual unison baritone-marimba sonorities.

The concert closed with Philharmonic violinist Ansgarius Aylward joining the quartet for Parisi's 1988 Quintet for Violin and Saxophones. The work treats the violin not as a solo instrument, but as an added ensemble member which softens group timbre and perhaps focuses it more narrowly.

Changes in direction mark two Amherst Sax works