Lullaby, George Gershwin

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Lullaby, George Gershwin
Year of Composition: 1919    
Stephen Rosenthal

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Mozart To Modern
Amherst Saxophone Quartet: Mozart To Modern
Salvatore Andolina, soprano
Russ Carere, alto
Stephen Rosenthal, tenor
Harry Fackelman, baritone
Lukas Foss, Piano

The saxophone was invented in 1840—a fact which makes it a veritable teenager among the traditional instruments of Western classical music. Far from being enfant terrible via its long kinship with popular idioms, the saxophone has been enfant cheri to many composers—due in particular to its singular lyrical voice. The timbres of a fine saxophone tone are brushed with a veiled fluorescence which is vibrant, sensual and inherently legato. The sum of this tonal melange has endeared the instrument to the treasury of the orchestral repertoire. Consider the record: Bizet—L'Arlestenne Suites; Prokofiev—Lieutenant Kije Suite; Shostakovich—The Golden Age; Ravel—Bolero; Rachmaninoff—Symphonic Dances; Milhaud—La Creation du Monde (a partial list). Each of these examples calls upon the saxophone to intone a descant that dwells among the loveliest in all of music.

But the Saxophone has a 'past' of another kind; its latent lyricism and potential for technical bravura have also made it a great vehicle for jazz expression. From the earliest days of Tin Pan Alley in New York City the instrument has been solidly identified with popular music in most of its myriad forms. From before Wiedoft to Parker to Desmond to Coltrane and beyond, the saxophone has been nonpareil as the preferred wind instrument among many of the world's greatest jazz artists.

Finally, though far less noticed, the vision of Adolphe Sax has also found its way into the mainstream of today's serious chamber music. And, although saxophone ensembles are now scattered around the globe, the ASQ is one of the world's leading advocates for commissions and premieres of serious new music for saxophone quartet.

It is appropriate that this MCA release is highlighted by the work of American composer Lukas Foss (1922-    ) [Editor's Note: (1922-2009)]. Once a pupil of Hindemith, Foss, a 'wunderkind' of his generation, left his position as pianist with the Boston Symphony to succeed Arnold Schonberg in the composition chair at UCLA. It was there that Foss formed an experimental chamber group to explore the diverse excursions of the musical avant-garde, Following close to the tempo of Foss' compositional work was the emergence of his distinguished conducting career as maestro of the Buffalo Philharmonic, the Jerusalem Symphony, the Brooklyn Philharmonic and the Milwaukee Symphony. But there is more: among aficionados, Foss' extraordinary keyboard facility has become legendary for his celebrated recordings of Bernstein's Age of Anxiety, the Bach Piano Concerti and his own Echoi. He therefore brings to this recording an informed musical persona which is perhaps without peer in our time.

Chamber music can only rarely assume the metier of the classical concertante, To do so it must retain the intimacy of a small ensemble as well as command the instrumental flamboyance typically found in works for full orchestra. But this is Mozart (1756-1791), and his Piano Quintet in B, K.452 provides a seamless example of just how gracefully those diverse qualities can be entwined into the runes of a separate work. Moreover, it is often suggested that-no matter what the medium-Mozart always composed with his heart in opera. Indeed, the music here does have a theatrical sense. The keyboard and quartet of winds seem to convey character roles as if rendered from a dramatic scenario on-stage.

The formative idea for this restatement of K.452 came from composer/pianist Leo Smit. The incentive was the possibility to score a verbatim translation of the original wind parts (clarinet, bassoon, horn, oboe) into the ideally suited registration of the classical saxophone quartet. The original concert key of Bb has been maintained and the piano score itself remains untouched. The challenge now met by the saxophonists requires them to tap the preserve of inspiration, elegance, and freedom which together comprise the autograph of Wolfgang Amadeus.

K. 452 was completed in March of 1784, and Mozart held a special enthusiasm for the work. In a letter to his father on 10 April 1784, he wrote: "The concert I gave in the theater was most successful. I composed two grand concertos and a quintet, which called forth the very greatest applause; I myself consider it to be the best work I have ever composed."

Except for the stately and declarative Largo at the opening (a favorite device of Haydn), the overall structure of this quintet bears a kinship to Mozart's concertos for piano: three movements of which the first is assertive and engaging, the second purely lyrical, and the last—in this case a delightful rondo—charged with breezy pyrotechnics and panache.

Lullaby by George Gershwin (1898-1937) (transcribed for this recording by Stephen Rosenthal) was initially scored for string quartet in 1919 or 1920. The principal melody of this little gem was later appropriated by Gershwin himself for an aria in his one-act opera titled Blue Monday. But with some irony, Lullaby was not publicly performed in its original form until 1967 at the Library of Congress by the Juilliard String Quartet. The piece begins with a demure introduction marked Molto moderato e dolce. The gossamer ambiance created here by the quartet offers a most unexpected insight into the feathery nuance that can be adumbrated by saxophones.

A brilliant new addition to the repertoire is Foss' Saxophone Quartet, composed for the ASQ in 1985 during the composer's residency at the American Academy in Rome. The work, infused with musical contrast, consists of four movements played without pause.

The first is titled Introduction and is marked Agitato (explosive, but precise). Edgy figurines develop a nervous momentum, initially interspersed with sustained chords. The second movement is titled Canon and the pitch/melodic structure darts haltingly and with playful urgency, as if an atonal architecture banters with an impish hidden tune. Just before the intricate playtime comes to a halt we hear a caption in the style of the Introduction. What follows is the Chorale of the third movement, a sequence of transparent musical ciphers in the form of slowly progressing chords—a spiral of evolving tonalities which gleam like fragments of musically stained glass. But then Attacca commands the opening of the fourth movement. The title here is Canon B (backwards), i.e., essentially the same pitches and rhythms of the second movement played in reverse but with a catch: the players are required to play Niente, which the score defines to be "Activity felt but not heard". The shadowy effect generates an inscrutable energy which slowly graduates into full audibility. All the while the giocoso-styled lilt of the first Canon is maintained. Suddenly, quasi-souvenirs from the Introduction and the Chorale are briefly quoted as cantilevers into the quiescent C Major chord which closes the piece.

American rag-time pianist and composer Eubie Blake (1883-1983) led an astonishing musical life that found him still composing at the age of 99. His output of rags, songs and stage works has generated a catalog in excess of 2000 entries. With the blessing of Blake himself the ASQ has recorded an entire album devoted to a broad sample of his music. Two of those selections have been newly recorded to conclude this album. The first is Jassamine Lane (1924), a love ballad of lithe tenderness; the second is a delightful rag with an attendant story: the introduction and first strain of the work were composed as a gift to Blake (probably for his 90th birthday) by his friend Johnny Guarnieri (1917-1985), who also named the piece. In 1973 Blake deftly filled in the remaining blanks and voila: Eubie Dubie, another jewel from the crown. © 1990 Edward Yadzinski

ASQ Biography
The Amherst Saxophone Quartet has performed extensively throughout the United States, appearing at many of the country's major concert halls and chamber music venues.

The Quartet performs the standard works composed for saxophone quartet. In addition to this large repertoire, it has developed a unique library of manuscripts which includes many commissions, and also music of the Baroque and Classical eras, Avant-garde, Jazz and Ragtime. The group has worked closely with composers ranging from Eubie Blake to Lukas Foss. The ASQ frequently appears with symphony orchestras performing concertos the ensemble has commissioned.

The ASQ was formed in 1978, and has performed over 100 concerts per year on tour and at home in Buffalo, New York. The ensemble is in Residence at Buffalo State College and the City Of Buffalo, and was awarded Chamber Music America Residency Grants for the project.

In addition to their concert appearances they have been broadcast nationally on "St. Paul Sunday Morning", NPR's "Music in Washington" from the Kennedy Center and NBC-TV's "Tonight Show".

One of the long term goals of the ASQ is to encourage composers to write for saxophone quartet and create a twentieth and twenty-first century repertoire to rival that of the contemporary string quartet.


Amherst Saxophone Quartet


Salvatore Andolina, Soprano
Russell D. Carere, Alto
Stephen Rosenthal, Tenor
Harry Fackelman, Baritone

Produced by Thomas Frost
Executive Producers: Martin Fleischmann & Joel Hoffner
Engineer: Tom Lazarus

Photo: David Hiller
Visual Effects: Dale Sizer
Art Direction: Martin Fleischmann
Design: Wilson Design Group

Thanks to: Ethel Siegel, Bobby Short, Michael Trimboli, Michael McGee, Tom Frost, Tom Lazarus, Joel Hoffner, Martin Fleischmann, Ed Yadzinski, and the Members of the Board of the Amherst Saxophone Society, Inc.

Also available on MCA Classics: Amherst Saxophone Quartet: Bach On Sax

Amherst Saxophone Quartet MOZART TO MODERN

W.A. MOZART Quintet for Piano and Wind Instruments in Eb, K.452 Trans. Leo Smit
I. Largo—Allegro moderato (9:32)
II. Larghetto (6:47)
III. Rondo: Allegretto (5:24)
Lukas Foss, Piano

GEORGE GERSHWIN Lullaby (7:30) Trans. Stephen Rosenthal for Giovanna Michelle

LUKAS FOSS Saxophone Quartet
I. Introduction (1:36)
II. Canon (2:57)
III. Chorale (4:01)
IV. Canon B (backwards) (3:19)

EUBIE BLAKE Jassamine Lane (5:29) Trans. Stephen Rosenthal

EUBIE BLAKE — JOHN GUARNIERI Eubie Dubie (3:09) Trans. Salvatore Andolina


Buffalo News (Buffalo, NY)
Monday, January 24, 1994
Saxophone Quartet leaps from Mozart to Gershwin
Herman Trotter

In this concert the Amherst Saxophone Quartet's journey from Mozart to modern turns out to be one big leap from 1784, when Mozart's Quintet for Piano and Winds in E-Flat, K452 was composed, to 1920, the year George Gershwin wrote his long buried "Lullaby" for string quartet whose premiere waited until 1967.

Given the instrumentation of those two works, it's obvious that some transcribing had to be done before the ASQ could get its collective chops on the music.

In 1987 Leo Smit obliged with the Mozart quintet, deftly reassigning the oboe, clarinet, horn and bassoon lines to the soprano through baritone saxes. In the process the pungent textures provided by the more tightly focused double reeds and clarinet is lost, and the Smit transcription provides instead an interplay of the piano against the more sonorous body of saxes.

It's a different view of the work. And since it's one of Mozart's top drawer scores it still holds a lot of interest, but not so much as in the more piquant original. In any case, Sunday's performance is best dismissed because the piano was in such bad condition. Claudia Hoca is an elegant pianist. She kept the lyrical line well shaped but could do nothing about the twangy, out of tune sound. Presumably the pianos for the next two performances will be better.

Gershwin's "Lullaby" was very effectively transcribed by the quartet's Stephen Rosenthal. The teasingly modulating melodic line was played with just the right amount of stress and expressiveness, making it winningly sentimental but not schmaltzy, while the scoring for saxes gave the sound a smoothly crooning quality.

Astor Piazzolla's "History of the Tango" had made a very engrossing concert opener. In 30-year' jumps its four movements trace the development of the tango from a "1900 Bordello" to a "Concert of Today." Happily chirping off-beat counterpoint gave way to a languorous and probing slow section which almost succumbed to, the blues, followed by a turn to more blatantly syncopated rhythms and a raucous finale which seemed an updated extrapolation of the first section. The performance was amazingly vital and precise, even in the trickiest rhythms and at the most elevated tempos.

If anything, even more stunning virtuosity surfaced in the other major work, Lukas Foss' Saxophone Quartet, written for the ASQ in 1985. It has a formal four-movement structure, but in the overview it seems to set up contrasts between slowly shifting, exquisitely consonant chord patterns and punctuating or interpolated angular bursts of random pointillist sounds. These repeated contrasts give a very stark but mesmerizing quality to the 12-minute work.

The customary concluding group of shorter, upbeat selections included Daniel Dorffs 1991 "Fast Walk," which followed the Gershwin and made a nice antidote to its dreaminess with an animated, chattery and positive ambience.

There was also the apparent premiere of ASQ member Russ Carere's "December Drive," mildly syncopated at first but growing almost frenetically jazzy, plus Scott Joplin's "Elite Syncopations" and "Rigamarole Rag" by Artie Matthews, a signature specialty with this ensemble.

Quintet for Piano and Wind Instruments in Eb, K. 452, W.A. Mozart
Lullaby, George Gershwin
Histoire du tango (1991), Astor Piazzolla
Saxophone Quartet, Lukas Foss
Fast Walk (1991), Daniel Dorff
December Drive (1993), Russ Carere
Saxophone Quartet leaps from Mozart to Gershwin
Buffalo News (Buffalo, NY)
Tuesday, October 9, 1990
Ad of note
Herman Trotter

A record company supports a new release by the Amherst Saxophone Quartet and Lukas Foss
WELL. GUESS who's featured in the full-color, full-page ad that appears on the back cover of Musical America mag-azine and in the New York Times Sunday Magazine? Our own Amherst Saxophone Quartet and Lukas Foss, that's who!

This prominent and costly advertising position is evidence of the importance MCA Classics attaches to its new recording called "Mozart to Modern." It features the ASQ and composer/pianist and former Buffalo Philharmonic music director Foss in works of Mozart, Foss, Gershwin and Joplin.

This is the ASQ's second release on the major, worldwide MCA label, and it's quite different from the first, which was all Bach. Here we have something much more like the ASQ's typical, highly successful concert program format. It has usually incorporated selections from the traditional sax repertory. contemporary works (many composed for or commissioned by the ensemble), transcriptions of works for other instrumental combinations and the signature closing ragtime favorites.

Leading off the new MCA Compact Disc is a transcription of Mozart's Quintet for Piano and Winds in E-Flat, K452, by internationally respected Buffalo composer Leo Smit. With Foss joining the ensemble as pianist. the performance has an attractively lithe and sinuous quality. This is largely due to the sonority produced by the four saxes, which is naturally more homogeneous than the original scoring for oboe, clarinet, bassoon and horn.

But granting the slightly lesser instrumental pungency in the transcription, the listener's attention shifts slightly to focus on the engaging interplay between the relatively percussive piano attacks and the legato lines of the four reeds. On this basis, the balance between reeds and piano is ideal. Foss once again proves what a superb pianistic feel he has for Mozart, and the ensemble does not try to make more of this music than is there, preserving its essentially genial serenade character with wonderful fidelity in its new clothing.

The other major work is the recorded premiere of Foss' 1985 Saxophone Quartet. It's quite complex in structure, defying easy description, but in essence it seems to be a study in contrasting sections of bristling and long-sustained sonorities, cacophony and serenity.

The opening movement, Introduction, forecasts this pattern in microcosm. with its quiet chords interrupted by energetic bursts of cackling sound. The succeeding Canon is all staccato attacks in seemingly random rhythmic patterns, followed by an exaggeratedly slow Chorale of gorgeously drawn out pianissimo chordal changes. The work closes with a backwards version of the Canon, emerging from silence to re-establish the jabbing ambience, then sinking into a calm C Major chord at the close.

It is a complicated work. But it's propelled by such a sense of logic and is so magnificently performed by the ASQ that it becomes a very satisfying listening experience.

The CD is filled out with transcriptions by two ASQ members, Gershwin's serenely gentle "Lullaby" for string quartet and Eubie Blake's "Jassamine Lane" by Stephen Rosenthal, and Blake's "Eubie Dubie" by Salvatore Andolina, all impeccably played.

Quintet for Piano and Wind Instruments in Eb, K. 452, W.A. Mozart
Saxophone Quartet, Lukas Foss
Lullaby, George Gershwin
Jassamine Lane, Eubie Blake
Eubie Dubie, Eubie Blake
Ad of note
Buffalo News (Buffalo, NY)
Wednesday, October 3, 1990
Amherst Quartet hits peak on special night
Herman Trotter

There sure was a lot of non-musical activity attached to this concert. In addition to the dual preview that the performances represented, the Quartet's president, Mrs. Eleanor V. Millonzi, dedicated the concert to Philharmonic reed player Edward Yadzinski for long service to the ensemble as teacher, coach and program annotator.

Then when his Saxophone Quartet was played, Lukas Foss dedicated the performance to the memory of the late Seymour H. Knox, whose contributions to the Albright-Knox Art Gallery are legendary. Foss described him as an arts patron of the caliber that his "beloved Buffalo Philharmonic" desperately needs right now.

With all this, did the music seem to take a back seat?

Not the way the Amherst Saxophone Quartet was playing. I have followed their progress through 13 seasons and have never heard them in better form. From a Bach Concerto through Foss' Quartet to the usual rags, intonation was immaculate, blend and balance were impeccable, ensemble was flawless, and all this was accomplished with an unerring sense of line and pliancy in phrasing.

Foss' Quartet was commissioned by the ASQ and premiered in 1985 and is now on the new CD. It consists of four movements: Introduction, Canon, Chorale and Canon B (backwards), all of which is helpful to know before hand but unnecessary as a road map when listening.

Foss' music speaks in wide contrasts. There are quiet and sonorous opening chords alternating with mercurial bursts of energy, evolving into a seemingly random staccato spray which nonetheless conveys a sense of architectural purpose and a groping, seeking forward motion.

Later the very measured equation of the slowly unfolding canonic lines is brought up short by purposely audible key slaps leading to jabbin pointillist thickets of sound, a busy texture which is relieved when the music sinks back into the rich chordal expanse from which it arose. In a less than pristine performance this music would sound disorganized, but the ASQ reconfirmed that this is a fascinating and significant addition to the saxophone literature.

Pianist Foss joined the ensemble for Mozart's Quintet in E-flat, K452 for piano and winds as transcribed for saxes by, Leo Smit. Anyone who thought the original scoring for woodwinds would lose textural bite and variety when scored for saxes didn't count on Smit's skill in instrumentation or the ASQ's finesse as performers.

This was apparent at the outset in the delicious contouring of the slow introduction's lovely pealing phrases. Throughout the faster sections the music had a rippling freedom superimposed over a rock solid strictness of line. An occasional turn by the piano seemed a bit brusque, but Foss' instinctive musicianship provided an engaging conversational partnership with die reeds and there was never a sense of formality, always a sense of form.

Another masterful transcription was Lowell Shaw's setting of Bach's Concerto BWV 913. Open and clean, so that every contrapuntal voice could be followed in detail, the performance was distinguished by phrasing that was both liquid and precise, and was supported from below by the wonderful baritone of Harry Fackelman; who has that rare faculty of knowing just how much pressure to apply and where in order to to keep the entire structure aloft and moving.

The 1961 Quartet by Claude Pascal fit the program well, with its chatty lyric lines, its syncopated jazz influence and its occasional venture into bracing and purposeful dissonance. The ASQ exerted exquisite control over the work's wide dynamic spectrum and an almost unbelievable ensemble in the finale's incredibly difficult headlong rush in detached, almost staccato tones.

After Gershwin's gently expressive "Lullaby," whose bluesy ambience is melded with a hint of Latin ostinato, the program concluded with the ASQ's signature, ragtime tunes, highlighted by the swaggering strut of Blake's "Eubie Dubie" and the perfect ensemble; in the runaway tempo of "Twelfth Street Rag."

Saxophone Quartet, Lukas Foss
Quintet for Piano and Wind Instruments in Eb, K. 452, W.A. Mozart
Concerto BWV 913, Johann Sebastian Bach
Lullaby, George Gershwin
Eubie Dubie, Eubie Blake
Amherst Quartet hits peak on special night
Pittsburgh Press, The (Pittsburgh, PA)
RECORDINGS: Mozart to Modern. Amherst Saxophone Quartet, Lukas Foss, pianist. MCA Classics
Donald Rosenberg

A few bars into Mozart's Quintet for Piano and Winds, K. 452, you suddenly realize that, no, these aren't the designated winds (oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn) of Mozart's quintet, but four saxophones who sound uncannily like the originals. Soon, the distinctive colors of the soprano, alto, tenor and baritone saxes inhabit Mozart, and the Amherst players make a convincing case for style over purism. The performance is a treat from the Amherst's occasional camouflage act to Lukas Foss' elegant pianism. Also to be savored are Foss' Saxophone Quartet, written for these players, a neatly devised amalgam of neo-classic and jazz ideas that avoid banal sax personality traits. The Amherst musicians, who are based in Buffalo and performed last summer at Summerfest in Fox Chapel, make a seamless wonder of Gershwin's bluesy Lullaby and dandy work of Eubie Blake's Jassamine Lane. Their snappy closer, Eubie Dubie, pays affectionate tribute to the ragtime musician who was their coach and mentor.

Quintet for Piano and Wind Instruments in Eb, K. 452, W.A. Mozart
Saxophone Quartet, Lukas Foss
Lullaby, George Gershwin
Jassamine Lane, Eubie Blake
Eubie Dubie, Eubie Blake
RECORDINGS: Mozart to Modern. Amherst Saxophone Quartet, Lukas Foss, pianist. MCA Classics


Buffalo News, The

These are heady times for Buffalo's internationally renowned Amherst Saxophone Quartet. Last week their second compact disc on the prestigious MCA label was released (to be reviewed in Gusto shortly). On Thursday they will appear at New York City's Carnegie Recital Hall. And in between, at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday to be precise, they will give a concert in Rockwell Hall on the Buffalo State College campus which will be an exact preview of the Carnegie concert and a generous sampling of the music on the new CD. Central to all of this activity is a musician well-known in these parts as a former music director of thc Buffalo Philharmonic, Lukas Foss. On the CD and in both concerts, Foss will be soloist in Mozart's Quintet for Piano and Winds in E-F1at, K458, as transcribed for saxes by another Buffalo musical luminary, composer Leo Smit. A tip: Smit's transcription produces wonderfully natural-sounding reed-piano sonorities, and the performance is an utter delight. But wait! Foss also wears his composer's hat for these events, as the ASQ will play the Saxophone Quartet he wrote for them in 1985. It was described after its premiere as "a fascinating study in changing textures and sonorities." Also to be heard on the new CD and at both concerts will be Gershwin's "Lullaby" plus Eubie Blake's "Jassarnine Lane" and "Eubie Dubie," while Lowell Shaw's transcription of Bach's Concerto, BWV 913, and the 1961 Saxophone Quartet by Claude Pascal complete the Rockwell/Carnegie program.
—Herman Trotter

Amherst Saxophone Quartet: ON THE WAY TO CARNEGIE HALL