July (1995), Michael Torke

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July (1995), Michael Torke
Year of Composition: 1995    

Review

Buffalo News (Buffalo, NY)
Saturday, December 5, 1998
Sax quartet program offers rags, riches
Herman Trotter

The Amherst Saxophone Quartet introduced its new soprano player, Susan Fancher, to the Buffalo audience in Holmes Chapel of Westminster Presbyterian Church.

They opened with the unscheduled "Two Bourrees" by Purcell, a sort of encore up front, whose festive ambience and bouncy rhythms demonstrated the big, blooming, resonant sound inherent in the chapel's very bright acoustics.

The acoustics did not, however, serve a transcription of Mozart's String Quartet in F, K590, quite so well. The outer movements were played with immaculate ensemble and balance, and with an invigorating vitality, but in the upper register the sound became quite shrill. This was even true in parts of the Andante, which otherwise seemed the most hospitable of the four movements to the saxophones' sonority.

A major part of the problem was that the quartet quite often seemed to be playing about two dynamic levels too high, with resultant loss of chamber music intimacy. The sounds of the instruments impinged and collided rather than blending.

Works written for saxes got the program back on track.

Michael Torke's 1995 minimalist "July" slid imperceptibly, almost formlessly from repetition of one expressive idea to another, rather like an extended dream sequence, part agitated and part serene.

The plan of Lukas Foss' 1985 Saxophone Quartet takes the listener through crazed bursts of sound, a long island of repose in changing chords, a skeletal segment starting in toneless key-slaps, then an ensemble of random staccato attacks, and an unexpected, highly gratifying quiet C Major chord to close. The performance, amodel of precision and incisive playing, made a strong case for the music.

Highly audience-friendly was Jongen's one-movement 1942 Quartet, Op. 122, first liquid and suave, then going through stages of melancholy with a Gallic blues twist, jocularity, and a free-flight finale combining the previous moods in casual references. It was superbly played and was wrapped up with a fine, sonorous coda.

In quartet member Russ Carere's "All Right Blues" the ensemble wailed a bit, added sonic 1940s big-band riffs, then gave everyone an improvised solo, most over an engaging walking baritone line.

The real encore, also by Carere, was "Falconer Street," a nice addition to the quartet's collection of signature ragtime pieces.

Quartet in F Major, K. 590, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
July (1995), Michael Torke
Saxophone Quartet, Lukas Foss
Quatuor, op. 122 (1942), Joseph Jongen
All Right Blues (1996), Russ Carere
Falconer Street, Russ Carere
Sax quartet program offers rags, riches