Quatuor (1931), Alexander Glazunov

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Quatuor (1931), Alexander Glazunov
Year of Composition: 1931    
I. Partie
II. Canzona variee
III. Finale

Review

Buffalo News (Buffalo, NY)
Sunday, February 28, 1999
Quartet's newest member contributing quickly
Garaud MacTaggart

Soprano saxophonist Susan Fancher, the latest addition to the Amherst Saxophone Quartet, has made an immediate impact.
Not only has the group gotten the services of another fine musician, but her versatile arrangements are adding some new life to an already interesting ensemble.
This was apparent at Saturday afternoon’s fine Slee Hall concert where three of the five compositions played were set by Fancher, and one came into the quartet’s repertoire by the happy fact of her marriage to composer Mark Engebretson. The only standard work for saxophone quartet played by the group was a piece by Alexander Glazunov.
Two snippets from 15th century master Josquin des Pres opened the program. “El Grillo” was a lively little tune, but the somewhat longer “Ave Maria” was a meatier example of Josquin’s superb part writing. Next up was a wonderful rendition of the Glazunov quartet with thinly disguised Russian folk themes rearing their heads in the finale.
The Engebretson piece, “Tell no more of Enchanted Days,” led off the second half of the concert and proved to be quite interesting.
As a saxophonist himself, Engebretson crafted the music to lie well beneath the musician’s fingertips while engaging in a series of standard late 20th-century compositional tools.
Included in this palette of sounds were over-blowing, quarter tones and, during the second movement, one part where the tenor saxophonist, Stephen Rosenthal, moved his instrument closer to a microphone and then played on the keys without blowing into the mouthpiece. It provided an interesting percussive effect as the keys made subtly different sounds depending on their location on the body of the instrument.
Fancher’s arrangement of Steve Reich’s “New York Counterpoint” is, evidently, already a fixture in the arsenal of other saxophone quartets. It features a prerecorded group (on CD) of seven saxophones playing music while a live quartet of saxophonists plays against and with the recording. It is, essentially, another one of those experiments with tape loops and real-time music that has been a feature of much later 20th-century music but updated with a digital twist.

Ave Maria, Josquin Desprez
Quatuor (1931), Alexander Glazunov
Tell no more of Enchanted Days (1992), Mark Engebretson
New York Counterpoint (1985), Steve Reich
Quartet's newest member contributing quickly
Buffalo News (Buffalo, NY)
Thursday, November 13, 1997
Quartet's second time around is no mistake
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.

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
Quartet's second time around is no mistake

Composer Biography

1865 — 1936

ALEXANDER GLAZUNOV (1865-1936), born in St. Petersburg, was gifted with an exceptional ear and began to study piano at the age of nine. He was composing by the age of 11. In 1879, he began composition studies with Rimsky-Korsakov and progressed "not from day to day but from hour to hour," said Rimsky-Korsakov. His first symphony and first string quartet were completed in 1881. Glazunov composed in all genres except opera, with the major portion of his music written before 1906. He wrote eight symphonies and eight quartets. The first seven were for strings, the last was composed in 1931 for saxophones. Some of the material from this work was later used in Glazunov's Saxophone Concerto, one of the most popular works for alto saxophone. In 1982, the ASQ chose the Glazunov Quatuor as the showcase work for its debut at Carnegie Hall.