Quartet in F Major, K. 590, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

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Quartet in F Major, K. 590, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Year of Composition: 1790    
Stephen Rosenthal
Allegro moderato


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
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