THE ART OF the '90s has become the art of survival for many of the so-called "culturals," as financial resources are spread thin. So we have the Amherst Saxophone Quartet playing Bach and Mozart over the sound of clinking dinnerware and noisy patrons in a downtown restaurant. A little sad that - and small wonder that some of the performance reflected the less than ideal circumstances.
If the Bach "Overture No. 6 in G-minor" was not up to ASQ's usual standards (a bit sloppy and rhythmically uneasy), the Mozart Concerto for Flute and Harp was a distinct improvement. even given the inevitable thickening in a strings-to-sax transcription of the orchestral part.
In fact, the quartet's notable ability to balance and blend made for a pleasant. cushioned sound for the most part, leaving only the tutti unison passages with a raw edge. Flutist Rhonda Schwartz and harpist Beth Ann Breneman combined elegantly in the solo roles, and actually hushed the crowd in the heavenly Andantino movement.
The second half was more in tune with the cafe ambience, opening with Ira Kramer's 1987 "Petit Suite." In three nicely paced and balanced movements, the work plays a mechanistic, perpetual-motion rhythmic turnaround prelude off a little polytonal teaser of a nocturne, and trumps it with a raucous circus polka aptly titled, "Vaudeville." The Quartet played superbly here.
But the best performance was reserved for the world premiere of Allen Sigel's "Homage to Gershwin" (1993). Sigel, a University at Buffalo professor and noted clarinetist, has a gem in this three-movement work. It captures the flavor and spirit of Gershwin's style in his own creative mix. There are no blatant Quotations — just suggestions, allusions, rhythmic fragments and melodic turns — and in the overture, a feel for the improvisational freedom that Gershwin so brilliantly faked. It's all there - the harmonic changes and delicious bent-tone virtuosity; a blues movement, lazy, sultry and sprawling; a swing finale with the loose-jointed, sassy melody over jazz-voiced hords, and a playful fugal touch, just for the hell of it. Wonderful piece brilliantly played.
Their encore was the premiere of Russ Carere's "Bus Stop Rag," a herky-jerk charmer with a slow-down/speed-up signature and the "Charleston Rag" by Eubie Blake.