Introduction et Scherzo (1957), Robert Clerisse

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Introduction et Scherzo (1957), Robert Clerisse
Year of Composition: 1957    

Review

Buffalo News (Buffalo, NY)
Thursday, November 13, 1997
Quartet's second time around is no mistake
Herman Trotter

In celebrating its 20th anniversary this season, the Amherst Saxophone Quartet reprised, in its initial concert, its very first concert. For the second set, it is replaying a 1982 Carnegie Hall concert.

"It was a watershed for us," said spokesman Stephen Rosenthal, "because the fine review which the New York Times gave us was a springboard to a long and healthy career."

After hearing the concert again, it's clear that the Times' positive review was earned.

The strong, fascinating program centered on two works written for the pioneering Marcel Mule Quartet: the 1931 Quartet in B-Flat, Op. 109 by Glazunov and the 1937 Quartet, Op. 31 by Belgian composer Jean Absil.

The Glazunov Quartet is typical of the composer's immaculately tailored construction.

The first movement was an easy reminiscence at the outset, unfolding into a section of increasing intricacy in which the tempo gradually increased to an all-out sprint.
 
Glazunov's mastery of harmony and instrumentation allowed the quartet to bring out its mellow, rich sounds, which were captivating even in the low-ceilinged confines of the Bijou Grille.

The central movement offers some of the most gorgeous sonorities in the repertory. It's an extended set of variations on a warm, beautifully harmonized chorale-like theme that is gradually increased in tempo to a crisp, clean, scampering Scherzo finale. Along the way, my fancy was particularly taken by the second variation built on trills which ping-pong back and forth among the instruments as the music's ruminations are worked out, and by the fourth, in which a chromatically wandering idea is given a seductive, very close harmonization.

The Finale clips along with punchy accents and an intriguing downward walking theme, accelerating to another exciting conclusion.

Absil's quartet was well placed in the wake of the Glazunov work because it had its own virtues without any sense of competition or imitation. Its three movements offered a jocular tune that echoed among the saxes, a slow Nocturne full of wavering figures under a lazy, descending theme, and a cleverly fragmented staccato Finale.

The concert had opened with Robert Clerisse's 1957 "Introduction and Scherzo," built on oft-changing moods in both of its sections. In its brevity it seems something of a bauble, but its excellent construction and wealth of pithy, short, occasionally sentimental ideas lift it well above the realm of the trivial.

The second half of the concert was all American, opening with Paul Creston's four-movement 1979 Suite, Op. 111. Variety of texture and rhythm was the attraction here. There were briskly paced, eccentric walking figures; odd; ear-catching rhythmic changes; gently flowing lines; and a perpetual motion Finale in which I doubt there was a single rest for anyone.

Buffalo composer Stephen Parisi's 1981 "Introduction and Capriccio," written for the quartet, pitted the opening's dreamy treble ambience 'with some surprising moments of depth against the rapid-fire Capriccio, with several energizing changes of rhythm and meter, and bursts of staccato playing like islands in the musical sea.

The quartet concluded with four trademark rags by Eubie Blake. "Poor Katie Redd" bounced along between a swagger and a strut; "Valse Marion" was slow and homey, generously strewn with exaggerated rubato; "Dictys on Seventh Avenue" was more strictly written, but without losing its ragtime rhythmic kick; and "Charleston Rag" a classic of the genre, barreled along over a wonderful descending baritone line.

Quatuor (1931), Alexander Glazunov
Quatuor pour saxophones, op. 31, Jean Absil
Introduction et Scherzo (1957), Robert Clerisse
Suite for Saxophone Quartet (1979), Paul Creston
Introduction and Capriccio (1981), Stephen Parisi
Quartet's second time around is no mistake
News-Gazette (Lexington, VA)
Wednesday, November 4, 1987
Quartet's Showmanship Dazzling
James W.H. Stewart Jr.

"And here we go with another classical saxophone recital," tenor sax maniac Steven Rosenthal mock-solemnly intones, a seemingly matter-of-fact introduction. But, as a matter of fact, can you state the place, time of day, month and year when you last attended (let alone stayed awake at) a classical saxophone recital? You might be hard pressed to remember, unless you saw the Johnny Carson show in 1985 when the Amherst Saxophone Quartet unleashed its brand of impeccable musicianship and P.D.Q. Bach showmanship on insomniacs everywhere.

The volatile ingredients of the Amherst Saxophone Quartet are Salvatore Andolina, soprano saxophone; Michael Nascimben, alto saxophone; Steven Rosenthal, tenor saxophone; and Harry Fackelman, baritone saxophone. This configuration parellels that of the string quartet and adds to their argument that European classical music had a repertoire and tradition for saxophone well before Amencan jazz made the saxophone America's premier instrument. On Wednesday, Oct. 28, the quartet Seminary Junior College.

Essentially, European composers have treated the saxophone as a woodwind instrument from the invention of the family by Adolph Sax in 1846, while jazz and popular styles treated saxophones more as brass instruments with harsher, brighter sonorities. The Amherst Quartet's program explored the saxophone's remarkable potential for chamber music with a wide variety of delightful pieces by regrettably obscure composers.

The Introduction et Scherzo and "Serenade Melancolique" by Robert Clerisse alternated roundlike among the instruments with smooth neoclassical tunes, suggesting what Mozart might have written for the saxophone had he lived to hear it. The "Serenade" also showed the influence of Debussy with its piquant, whole tones.
 
"Sevilla," a transcription of a piece composed by Isaac Albeniz around the turn of the century, featured typically Spanish rhythms in 6/8 time. But the development of the piece was anything but typical, with some shining soliloquies for the soprano sax, while baritonist Fackelman honked amusingly in the deep register.

Rosenthal introduced the next piece as "the brilliantly entitled Quartuor por Saxophones," which means quartet for saxophones, by Joseph Jongen (1942). In one movement, the piece's gradual transition to an eloquent andante, then to a final snake dancelike allegro, gives the impression of three distinct movements. Oddly, the soprano and alto saxes foreshadowed the four-note "Twilight Zone" motif, written almost 20 years later than this piece, while a smooth melody for tenor sax floated over. But there is basically nothing otherworldly about this sociably droll music. Like a Tom and Jerry cartoon, whose music the piece also predicts, the impression is given that each member of the cast will get up and shake hands after the cream and seltzer' water have been mopped up.

The Introduction and Capriccio by Steven Parisi showcased Andolina's remarkable gift for making his soprano sax sound uncommonly like a flute, oboe, clarinet and even trumpet! The Capriccio also featured some devilishly tricky ensemble rhythms handled with aplomb.

After a brief intermission, the group returned with a transcription by altoist Nascimbom of Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor. Subjected to innumerable transcriptions by the likes of Stokowski, the Swingle Singers, and Walter Wendy Carlos, this great warhorse got a fine treatment by the players, excepting some minor fudging by the soprano and alto. But for a cake as nice as this, a little fudge is just a minor sin. Of course, I would never be so heartless a reviewer as to suggest that the reason this was the only piece with mistakes was that it was the only piece on the program I knew. A fine reading overall.

The Quartet for Saxophone, Op. 31, by Jean Absil, exploited massed trills and tremulos to great sonic effect, with some more amusing quotes. The second movement opening suggests the beginning of the third movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, while the third movement opening mimicked the speakeasy intro of Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue." I suppose this provides a nice illustration of how the motifs of nauseatingly overplayed classics can be used to introduce pieces that are totally unrelated. The piece was great fun and deserves to be heard again.

The last two segments of the program brought the saxophone back to its American jazz and ragtime roots, and neatly completed in my mind the perception of jazz and ragtime as American classical music. The "Jazz Vignettes" by Andrew White and the transcriptions of Eubie Blake's ragtimes made light of the contributions of the Count Basie big band and Lester Young, among others, who discovered whole new ways of writing for and playing the saxophone. These contributions again sounded fresh against the historical context with which the quartet contrasted them. The Amherst Saxophone Quartet has contributed immeasurably to our understanding of the "yakkety sax."

At the end, having imitated the flute, oboe, clarinet, trumpet and even Lawrence Wclk 's accordian, soprano saxist Andolina topped it all by mimicking the harp. I am referring, of course. to his ridiculous Harpo Marx gestures, inciting the crowd to clap and shut up by turns. And as if all of that were not enough, when Rosenthal made a mock pathetic appeal to the audience to buy the albums in the lobby, Andolina, while the baritonist played a maudlin tune, held his soprano sax to his neck like a violin and "played" with an imaginary bow. One more corny gesture like that, and the audience might well have imitated violence. An educational good time was had by all.

Quatuor pour saxophones, op. 31, Jean Absil
Introduction and Capriccio (1981), Stephen Parisi
Quatuor, op. 122 (1942), Joseph Jongen
Sevilla, Isaac Albéniz
Introduction et Scherzo (1957), Robert Clerisse
Serenade Melancolique, Robert Clérisse
Quartet's Showmanship Dazzling