Grave et Presto, Jean Rivier

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Grave et Presto, Jean Rivier
Year of Composition: 1938    


Buffalo News (Buffalo, NY)
Saturday, February 8, 1997
Amherst Saxophone Quartet strings together a pleasant mix
Thomas Putnam

The Amherst Saxophone Quartet was in disguise for part of this program, which mixed saxophone quartet pieces and string quartet pieces with mixed results.

The saxophonists had on their slippers, but not their powdered wigs, for their performance of a Mozart String Quartet (K. 590). Candlelight would have been appropriate and made more chilling the moans of disapproving ghosts of the Budapest String Quartet.

This began the program as the grand statement of classical acceptance. We do belong. Years have passed without their daring to cross the border, but now the sax players have their Classic Visa, and you can be sure it's a card.

Actually the players in the last movement made a case for the misplacement of Mozart in the 18th Century. The allegro had a fine open-throated verve and a natural richness of color that was very satisfying, neither timid nor apologetic. The ghosts were quiet.

What followed was Chan Ka Nin's Saxophone Quartet (1989), an ASQ prize winner and a richly various piece. Its fleet, contesting energies suggested scenes of theater or dance, with blue lighting. What was odd (this comes from not knowing when a disguise is on and when it is off) was the feeling that Chan's music would sound wonderful played by instruments other than saxophones.

What a score for a ballet this would be - a kind of Asian Spring, for the suggestion of the freshness and openness of Copland is not too distant. A string orchestra, for example, with some use of the technique of col legno, hitting the strings with the wood of the bows; and percussion, and contrabassoon definitely.

Another saxophone quartet was Jonathan Golove's "Closely Related Fungi" (1996), which the composer introduced and applauded. Nevermind the title unless you are obsessed with programmatic aids. It had only the damaging effect of allowing one of the players to put down the sax and take up the lectern to deliver a series of exclamations on the subject of mushrooms.

Much more persuasive was the, well, persuasion of Golove's music, the French softness and patience that made the piece such a lovely throwback. Here we are at one turn of the century and still in arm's reach of the last turn of the century. Time seems very long at the end of a century, perhaps.

Golove said that while writing the piece, he was fathoming Charlie Parker, the bop saxophonist, but we don't really hear that kind of saxophone here, for this is not a convoluted and chromatic music. Ellington saxes, perhaps, more sweet than acid. Also, Golove's rhythms are not really fascinating, that is, the piece gets along very well without sharply cut figures. And it was quite nice to hear this kind of tonal persuasion.

We truly were treated to tonal persuasion and rhythmic flash in the ASQ's performance of Jean Rivier's "Grave et Presto." Apparently this piece has been in the quartet's repertory from the start, and no wonder. Here is languorous tone and quickly painted urban bustle. (The ghosts of the Budapest are stirring, they are envious.) The performance was nearly perfectly delicate (this was no Classicism in Slippers), and at the end a marvel of here-we-go-don't-look-back ensemble flash.

To show that a generalization is a dangerous thing, there was a string quartet transcription that worked famously. Sometimes to borrow is better. William Grant Still's "Danzas de Panama" may sound sultry played by strings; it certainly sounds great played by saxes. These are colorful dances, with fascinating rhythms, and if you can't dance, that's OK. ASQ has the splashy choreography, and they're wearing shoes that fit.

Quartet in F Major, K. 590, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Saxophone Quartet, Chan Ka Nin
Closely Related Fungi (1996), Jonathan Golove
Grave et Presto, Jean Rivier
Danzas de Panama (1953), William Grant Still
Amherst Saxophone Quartet strings together a pleasant mix
Buffalo News (Buffalo, NY)
Tuesday, April 27, 1993
Versatile sax quartet makes new friends with jaunty style
Herman Trotter

The Buffalo-based Amherst Saxophone Quartet was a huge hit Monday evening, playing for an audience of some 200 National Federation of Music Clubs conventioneers. But it was with a program quite different from the one expected by your critic.

On Sunday the group concluded its season series in Nichols School with the area premiere of Bernard Hoffer's Quartet for Saxophones.

The assumption was that Hoffer's new work would be repeated Monday, thereby providing a second chance to review the new quartet, which was not covered Sunday because of an overcrowded review schedule.

But the music club delegates had just been through a week of lectures, conferences and high level performances, and needed a lighter touch for their final concert. The Amherst quartet was asked to play only a half hour and not to get too heavy, which ruled out Hoffer's Quartet.

They met the challenge superbly, leaving no doubt that they can play the classic, jazz, pop and ragtime repertoire equally well.

They opened with the whirlwind Badinerie movement from Bach's Suite No. 2 in B minor for flute and strings, which they played with bristling energy and a runaway tempo which still remained disciplined.

In Jean Rivier's "Grave et Presto" the ensemble was silky toned and superbly balanced in the slow portions, smooth of line and extraordinarily precise in the presto sections, a fine blend of virtuosity and musicianship.

With an abbreviated version of the "Blues" section from Gershwin's "An American in Paris," the quartet began its segue into the lighter realm. Sal Andolina's soprano sax wailed Gershwin's soulful blues theme with a melancholy passion, while the' uncredited arrangement beautifully suits the four saxes, making them sound as rich and warm as the full orchestra.

Tenor saxophonist and spokesman Stephen Rosenthal treated the visitors to some of his vaunted whimsical commentary.

"This is the aerobics portion of the program," he announced as the quartet stood up for no apparent reason and launched into Jimmy Giuffre's "Four Brothers."

Later another reason was offered for being on their feet. "Since we're playing the presidential instrument, we felt we should I stand," Rosenthal explained before a soft bop arrangement of "When the Saints Go Marching In" with a long, involuted and rambling introduction.

After Miles Davis's "Blues," with soprano and alto providing the blue ambience over a pulsing, easy swinging ostinato in tenor and baritone, Rosenthal introduced the "Charleston Rag" by explaining that its composer, Eubie Blake who lived to 100, had been built the same year the Brooklyn Bridge was born." The music romped along over Harry Fackelman's oh-so-articulate baritone underpinnings.

They closed with alto Russ Carere's "Opus 10," a sophisticated yet still easy-swinging rag, and the standard "12th Street Rag," with a runaway accelerated tempo at the end.

The quartet came back for one encore which was introduced as being written by Italian baroque master "Onri Monchini." But it turned out to be good old Henry Mancini as soon as the barking b~ritone and stealthily treading melodic line began to spin out the famous "Pink Panther" theme.

The Amherst Saxophone Quartet made a lot of new friends Monday evening.

Grave et Presto, Jean Rivier
Versatile sax quartet makes  new friends with jaunty style
Buffalo News (Buffalo, NY)
Monday, February 8, 1993
Amherst Sax quartet dusts off the big band sound
Herman Trotter

There were two premieres on this program by the Amherst Saxophone Quartet, attractive lighter pieces, but the bulk of the concert was devoted to exploration of repertoire that the ensemble hadn't played for some time.

In the 1930s and 1940s Jean Rivier (1896-1987) was considered a leading light among emerging French composers, but his work is not heard much today. The ASQ opened with his 1938 "Grave et Presto." It proved very attractive, with its sweet, hollow chords and gently probing tonal progressions, followed by the scampering "presto" section which had a sort of stop-start feeling about its pulse and intermixed reminiscences of the "grave" section for contrast. For all this, though, it's a rather tightly written piece and the ASQ's ensemble was immaculate in setting it forth.

Paul Creston (nee Joseph Guttoveggio) wrote his Suite, Op. III in 1979. Though American, this music has an extremely light texture and nimble voice leading, yet seemingly owes little to jazz influence, which makes it sound more Iike the work of the French school. The ASQ was returning to Creston's Suite for the first time since recording it in 1984, and gave it a cohesive, persuasive performance, the quietly ambling pace of the Pastorale movement a special pleasure.

But the major work which made the biggest impact was Pittsburgh composer David Stock's "Sax Appeal," written for the ASQ in 1990. It made a bigger impression on this second hearing, sounding in general like a kind of overstated evocation of progressive big band sounds of the I 940s.

The first movement's sweeping figures and massive block chordal architecture moved along very insistently and punchily but behind the musical bravado was an engrossing harmonic progression.

A growling baritone sax underpinned the Blues movement's slowly shifting patterns, while the slowly moving Sarabande was propelled by a pulsing rhythm and capped by an intriguing pealing figure.

The finale, called Jump, was a pell mell rush, with every man for himself, it seemed. One bold, brazen idea after another went racing by, but it was well enough constructed that it held my interest hypnotically.

Making its debut was "Masako" by ASQ's alto, Russ Carere, a tribute to a Japanese woman now living in Buffalo who had been of immeasurable help in expediting details' of the group's recent guest appearance at Kanazawa, Japan, Buffalo's sister city. It's an up tempo piece in sophisticated jazz style with an abrupt but satisfying ending. There's also a little inside joke at the start, the sound of the soprano sax in a high register two-note chirp, apparently similar to the real Masako saying "Hello" on the telephone.

Also premiered was Bill Evans' "Waltz for Debbie" in an arrangement by Ron Corsaro done several years ago but just now going public. It's gently swinging, smooth jazz lines came right after Stock's "Sax Appeal" and made a wonderful transition to the lighter part of the program.

Two rags by Russ Carere completed the announced program, "Rascal Rag" and "Jilly Bean Walk," with "Vivacity Rag" tossed in as an encore.

Grave et Presto, Jean Rivier
Suite for Saxophone Quartet (1979), Paul Creston
Sax Appeal (1990), David Stock
Waltz for Debby, Bill Evans
Masako, Russ Carere
Amherst Sax quartet dusts off the big band sound