Four, for Tango (1987), Astor Piazzolla

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Four, for Tango (1987), Astor Piazzolla
Year of Composition: 1987    
Claud Voirpy

Review

Buffalo News, The (Buffalo, NY)
Saturday, October 13, 2001
Saxophone quartet tunes in world of sound
Garaud MacTaggart

The Amherst Saxophone Quartet is a wonderful ensemble and a Western New York treasure. The group seems to be at home with more-adventurous material, but it plays arrangements of George Gershwin and Eubie Blake tunes with equal aplomb. That is probably why its concert series has become a mini-event over the last 24 years and why its concert Friday evening was attended by a number of repeat "customers."

Music from the New World could have been the theme, but calling the program a "celebration of music from North and South America: got the point across, too.

Works by American composers David Kechley, Leopold Godowsky III, Stephen Parisi and William Grant Still were matched by Cuban-American jazz master Paquito D'Rivera, arrangements of some Argentine tangos by Alejandro Rutty and "Four for Tango," a work by Astor Piazzolla originally commissioned by the Kronos Quartet.

Kechley, who was in the audience, wrote "Stepping Out" in 1989 for the Saskatoon Saxophone Quartet, but since then, it has entered the repertoire of a fairly substantial number of like-minded groups. In fact, Susan Fancher, the soprano sax player for the Amherst quartet, had played it when she was a member of the Vienna Saxophone Quartet. The work, a four-movement piece, seems to pay homage to minimalists one minute and the old tradition of singing "rounds" the next. The whole process was surprisingly fascinating.

Godowsky also was in the house, and his "Cafeteria Suite" was derived from the incidental music he wrote for a film based on the Isaac Bashevis Singer short story "The Cafeteria." The solid, well-constructed six-movement suite has its own charms, but not necessarily one that would send you home whistling the main theme.

Claude Voirpy's arrangement of Piazzolla's "Four for Tango" was the most vibrant, passionate sounding work in the first half of the concert and provided a hint of things to come later in the evening. Stephen Rosenthal, the quartet's tenor player, arranged Still's "Danzas de Panama," a work that seemed to contain snippets of popular melodies, the kind of thing that teases the brain with its familiarity without revealing its name.

Rutty, a former doctoral student in the University at Buffalo composition program, hails from Argentina and arranged some tangos for the quartet and singer Lorena Guillen, another Argentine. Both "Nostalagias" and "Garufa" - a term roughly translated as "Party Boy" - were sung with the kind of conviction for which Guillen has become known in this material. The quartet was right on the money too, and so were the arrangements. The microphone amplification, however, was horribly off, which made mush out of Guillen's syllables.

In many ways, the most fun pieces were the ones saved for the back end of the program. D'Rivera's "Wapango" has shown up in arrangements for string quartet and woodwind quintet in addition to the saxophone quartet version played by the Amherst group. But, as the music publisher for the work says, it remains "an exciting and lively Latin dance with a syncopated bass line - perfect for recitals, jobs or educational demos!"

The final composition of the evening - not counting the reprise of "Garufa" that was the encore - was Parisi's clever "Nina's Samba," a work that seemed to weave touches of rhythm and blues with post-bop mannerisms throughout its structure but in a way that avoided triteness even as it gave sonic hints about an ensuing party.

Stepping Out (1989), David Kechley
Cafeteria Suite, Leopold Godowsky III
Four, for Tango (1987), Astor Piazzolla
Nostalgias, J.C. Cobian
Garufa, J.A. Collazo
Wapango, Paquito D'Rivera
Nina's Samba, Stephen Parisi
Saxophone quartet tunes in world of sound
Buffalo News (Buffalo, NY)
Tuesday, January 30, 1996
Quartet takes a look at new compositions
Thomas Putnam

The Amherst Saxophone Quartet has a drawer that holds music it may someday perform in concert; now that drawer's a little less full.

The ensemble played four new saxophone quartets, composed between 1976 and 1992 its "Pushing the Edges" program Monday night in the University, at Buffalo's Slee Concert Hall on the North Campus.

Russell Howland'S Quartet: No. 3 (1976) has a French taste; its intelIigence is not severe. The first movement counterpoint, is as easy to swaIlow as cotton candy — it is cotton candypoint. Howland's saxophones are French, too, in what they evoke. Not a blackboard with diagrams and compositional formulas, but impressionistic views — a pond, say, with a frog on a lily pad, dreaming of a fat fly. The neatly composed piece was smartly played.

"Tetralogue" is what Richard Willis calls his 1990 quartet. Its movements are a "Fantasia," with serpentine lines; a scherzo a la Lenny that's cool (real cool); an uninspired "Arioso" (the lack of sexy writing for saxes was surprising on this program — sexy as in warm-lyrical-sweet); and a whirling "Corrente" with a wonderful two-chord cadence. Busy saxophones aren't always best.

Bernard Hoffer's Quartet No. 2 (1992) is notable for its sonic experimentation. This includes harmonies that seem to glow and pulsate, and gargled and multiphonic tonal techniques. The instrumental writing is nicely layered, and melodic lines may be pieced together from one saxophone to the next. It is a piece you may admire without loving, and the performance was often admirable (as when the quartet stood at the edge of a fermata summit, then catapulted to a precipitous descent).

Steve Cohen's Quartet (1980) wears jazz's costume jewelry — it knows syncopation and it feels the punch of saxophones, and it wants sweet lyricism.

There was one transcription — "Four for Tango" by Astor Piazzolla (arranged by Claude Voirpy). Here we are in a cabaret — the court of the saxophone. What makes the piece appealing is not the dance beat, but its trick of sound whereby the saxophones, suggest the swift cutting passion of bowed violins. You see, a transcription can be original.

Quartet No. 3 (1976), Russell Howland
Tetraloque (1990), Richard Willis
Saxophone Quartet #2 (1992), Bernard Hoffer
Saxophone Quartet (1980), Steve Cohen
Four, for Tango (1987), Astor Piazzolla
Quartet takes a look at new compositions

Composer Biography

1921 — 1992

ASTOR PIAZZOLLA (1921-1992) was a composer and bandoneón player who revolutionized tango music. In 1924 Piazzolla's family moved from Buenos Aires to New York City-Astor was only three years old. They stayed there, with a brief interlude, until 1936. He listened to Cab Calloway in Harlem. Later, again in Buenos Aires, he played traditional tango on his bandoneón in Anibal Troilos orchestra. In 1940 he composed a piece for Arthur Rubinstein who was in Buenos Aires on a tour. Rubinstein recognized Piazzolla's talent and told him to study composition with Alberto Ginastera. With Ginastera he listened to Bartók and Stravinsky. In 1944 Piazzolla left Troilo — the tango scene considered this to be ingratitude and treason — but the 25-year old went his own way and created his own group. He introduced counterpoints, fugues and new harmonies into tango music, but it was not until the 1980s that Piazzolla became recognized in his homeland of Argentina.