Quartet in e minor, Giuseppe Verdi

All Repertoire

Quartet in e minor, Giuseppe Verdi
Year of Composition: 1873    
Michael Nascimben
Allegro
Andantino
Prestissimo
Scherzo Fuga (Allegro assai mosso)

Review

Reading Eagle/Reading Times (Reading, PA)
Monday, February 22, 1993
Offbeat Amherst musicians provide a musical adventure
Susan L. Pena

In a concert that showed just how well-deserved their Chamber Music America award for adventuresome programming was, the Amherst Saxophone Quartet inaugurated the Gertrude Sternbergh Concert Series of the Star series Association Saturday night at the Albright College Meridian Theatre.

Besides hearing the rare sounds of four saxophones playing both chamber music and jazz, the audience had a dollop of comedy thrown in unexpectedly by tenor player Stephen Rosenthal.

Blasting the stereotypical image of serious chamber musician, Rosenthal opened the program by deadpanning his way through a series of rules for the audience that included "no breathing allowed." His introductions to the pieces, often worthy of P.D.Q. Bach, had the audience in stitches; seconds later listeners would be raptly absorbing (or "audiating") the quartet's wonderful, unique sound.

Unsurprisingly, that sound is somewhere between a woodwind quintet and a brass ensemble; saxophones combine the burnished sound of brass with the flexibility and slight nasality of oboes and clarinets.

In the hands of these remarkable players - Salvatore Andolina on soprano, Russell Carere on alto and Harry Fackelman on baritone in addition to Rosenthal - the instrument becomes a natural conduit for virtually every style of music.

One can't help but wonder how Bach, who never heard a sax, would have liked their rendition of his Toccata BWV 913. Certainly he couldn't have asked for a more sprightly fugue, or a more precise, controlled, and often frisky rendering of the fast passages.

Hearing Verdi's Quartet in E Minor on wind instruments took some getting used to - it really sounded like a whole different piece; still, the group certainly captured the dramatic spirit of the work.

The second movement, a gracious, bittersweet waltz that Violetta might have sung, worked especially well in this reading, as did the elfin Prestissimo. They negotiated the final, quasi-fugal movement with élan, in spite of its being tricky to play, especially when you blow it rather than bow it.

They opened the second half of the program with the winner of their own composition competition, Chan Ka Nin's brilliant, quirky Saxophone Quartet, subtitled "Among Friends." Busy and replete with effects at the beginning, the piece mellows into a lyrical set of solos for each instrument, like walking from a marketplace to a quiet park. It showed what can emerge when a composer writes expressly for this ensemble, using all of the instruments' capabilities.

The rest of the program was given over to all kinds of jazz, from Thelonious Monk's Blue Monk," which included a wonderful duet for soprano and baritone and great soprano solos, to ragtime with a bow to Eubie Blake. All of it proved they could groove as well as the next sax player.

A delightful departure was Carere's "Jill[y] Bean Walk," a Chaplinesque cakewalk of the golliwogish persuasion dedicated to his three-year old daughter and her peculiar gait. All four obviously enjoyed playing this number.

Also included were a splendid arrangement of "When the Saints Go Marching In," a familiar syncopated morsel whose name no one could remember (and they wouldn't tell), and, as an encore, Henry Mancini's "Pink Panther."

Quartet in e minor, Giuseppe Verdi
Saxophone Quartet, Chan Ka Nin
Blue Monk, Thelonius Monk
Jilly Bean Walk, Russ Carere
Buffalo News (Buffalo, NY)
Monday, November 25, 1991
Saxophone Quartet plays Perry prize winner
Herman Trotter

It's hard to characterize this concert succinctly, because in addition to unveiling the third prize winner in the ensemble's composition contest, there was also a world premiere and a quasi premiere. Bear with us.

At the center of the program was the Quartet for Four Saxophones in the Classical Style by British Columbian composer Anita Perry, second runner up in the ASQ's composition competition. The ASQ thinks well enough of this work that it has already been recorded for the ensemble's next MCA compact disc, with release scheduled for next year.

Perry's Quartet is absolutely unpretentious, a lightweight work with ingenuous running lines, quiet mood painting, unashamed horseplay and a lot of canonic chasing. One gets the feeling of honesty and spontaneity. Because of this, the music has a very individual and memorable profile.

On my second exposure I am still enchanted by the pulsing beat Perry uses to buoy up the first movement's repeated rising motif as it courses through a series of satisfying and occasionally unexpected modulations. A similar pulsing figure is used more sparingly to add texture to the slow movement's lovely pastel reverie, while the scherzo takes that word literally. It's a joke, with unexpected pauses, strange intervals and ornamentation, horse laughs and one surprise best left unexplained.

The world premiere was Michael Sahl's 1991 Saxophone Quartet. In the composer's notes he says that the soul of the piece is harmony, but he gives no clues as to its structure.

After a languorous introduction, a jumbly, eccentric allegro emerged, touching off a series of interludes in which all four instruments were almost continually playing, thereby enriching that harmonic soul.

Texturally, these interludes were not all that differentiated one from another, and I had the strong visual imagery of a succession of highly detailed carved wood panels or rich tapestries passing before my eyes, not so much like a theme and variations as a simple parade.

The musical content of these panels/tapestries was highly lyrical, warmly and throbbingly sonorous and it came as something of a jolt when there was a complete break, a resumption in more intimate sonority and slower tempo, followed by a furious prestissimo to conclude.

What's a quasi premiere? Well, it's Verdi's 1873 String Quartet in E minor, which the ASQ has played before, but which was being heard on Sunday in the first performance of a new transcription by quartet members Harry Fackelman and Stephen Rosenthal.

Contrasts abound in this transcription, from the smooth-as-glass opening movement to the jocular Andantino which gradually turns serious and the treacherous Prestissimo third movement.

It was here that the ASQ had its only technical problems of the evening, some of the articulation losing its crispness. It was only a momentary lapse, because in the equally difficult scampering, staccato Finale the ensemble's virtuosity in keeping those precipitous passages clean was remarkable.

Quartet for Four Saxophones (1989), Anita D. Perry
Saxophone Quartet (1991), Michael Sahl
Quartet in e minor, Giuseppe Verdi
Saxophone Quartet plays Perry prize winner