Quartet's second time around is no mistake

Works reviewed: 
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
Buffalo News
Buffalo, NY
Nov 13 1997
By: 
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.

Quartet's second time around is no mistake