Fantazia, Orlando Gibbons

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Fantazia, Orlando Gibbons
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Fred Hemke


Buffalo News, The (Buffalo, NY)
Thursday, September 28, 1995
The luxuriant sound of baroque saxes
Thomas Putnam

The Amherst Saxophone Quartet played a baroque program Wednesday night in the acoustically warm Buffalo Seminary chapel, and they were not trespassing. This tight choir of saxophones made the made-for-organ pieces sound especially luxuriant, the capstone of the program being the dramatic and thrilling Toccata and Fugue in d minor by Bach. In this transcription by Harry Fackelman (the baritone saxophonist in the quartet), one was easily swept up in the harmonic sound and the bold lines. Not every easy way was taken, either. The closing passage for alto saxophone, for example, was played by Russ Carere with brave staccato attacks. (Click for additional Toccata review.) There was more Bach along the way, including a wonderful piece by a son of Bach, J.C. Bach. Two movements from a sinfonietta by this precursor of Mozart may have been snuck into this baroque concert room in the pocket of the rather large coat; but we must be glad they were allowed to remain, that no usher representing Authenticity threw them out. This young Bach's music is remarkable for the distance it takes from the music of the conservative father. For that and for its natural good grace and appealing character. It is altogether classic. (Click for additional Sinfonietta review.) The reactionary father -- and we are glad for that. The Amherst saxophonists played one other organ work by J.S. --the Prelude and Fugue in c minor, and what a wonderful reedy sound it had, and how near the sound an organ can make. We also heard a transcription of Bach's Orchestral Suite No. 1 in C, which perhaps more than any other piece on the program sounded like a reduction -- you missed the colorings that give the part-writing clarity. One bit of genius was the arrangement by Stephen Rosenthal, the tenor saxophonist, of songs by John Dowland. This Elizabethan group of vocal pieces works extremely well, for the saxophones easily enter this harmonic world, so rich and clean at the same time. Rhythm here is terribly captivating -- it takes little hops, skips and jumps that make a spirit sit up. A large piece by Handel, a Concerto in d minor (more like a suite, it seemed), was notable for its radiant-sounding harmonies, and for the way the saxophonists achieved an agile staccato, something not easy to accomplish with regularity. In this performance the players were eager to keep a tempo pushed to a nervous edge. The last movement was a ceremonial piece, with a kind of carnival sound. A Fantazia by Orlando Gibbons started the evening with peppery staccatos and tonal swells; nearly jazzy in appearance, it was played as if made for saxophones. Probably it was rare for a keyboard sonata by Domenico Scarlatti to sound rich and sonorous, but this music seemed to enjoy its transposition for saxophones. Its not for life, after all, that these things are done. The Scarlatti's percussiveness was in abeyance, but its harmony blossomed. You can't have everything -- but who wants everything?

Toccata in d minor, Johann Sebastian Bach
Songs, Book III , John Dowland
Sonata 44, Domenico Scarlatti
Concerto in d minor, George Frederic Handel
Fantazia, Orlando Gibbons
The luxuriant sound of baroque saxes