Quatuor des Saxophones, Ida Gotkovsky

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Quatuor des Saxophones, Ida Gotkovsky
Year of Composition: 1983    


Buffalo News (Buffalo, NY)
Tuesday, October 11, 1994
Works for the sax work for Quartet
Kenneth Young

True to formula, the Amherst Saxophone Quartet began with Baroque and rounded off with ragtime, with all manner of contemporary sax quartet literature in between. Also true to type, they played superbly for the most part, with ensemble blend, rhythmic precision and a wonderful feel for the romantic sensibility that seems to touch most of the modern works in this idiom.

Frankly, I could do without the Bach transcriptions, which, without getting too purist about it, sound thick, leaden and often unbalanced in this instrumentation, no matter how skillfully arranged and played. The Concerto No.1, BVW 592 suffered from all of the above, despite some honest attempts to vary the solo-orchestral textures and a good sense of style in the delivery. Bach's more linear, dance-like keyboard pieces translate better, as do works of other Baroque composers like Handel, for example, whose works could be performed by a hog-choir passing wind to good effect.

The real meat of the concert, though, was the works actually written for saxophone quartet, two of which were composed specifically for the Amherst ensemble.

Allen Sigel's brand new "Flapper Era Dances" was one of these — a dance suite in four movements paying tribute to Roaring Twenties styles. These were quite charming, without having, perhaps, the easy inspiration of Sigel's fine "Homage to Gershwin" premiered last season by the ASQ. The Tango had a layered-on introduction denoting the dance's formal, "serious" status - then turned quirky, with a lot of writing in the harsh upper register of the soprano sax. The Fox-Trot Variations were inventive, with variations flowing into each other smoothly, always, retaining a delicate prancing gait through the playful counterpoint. The Hesitation Waltz was somehow graceful in its multi-meter whirl of extra beats and luftpauses, and the Charleston finale seemed a concentrated, shorthand summary of both the ingenuous romance and flamboyance at the heart of the dance and the era.

Rocco Di Pietro's "Phantom Melos," which was written for the Buffalo Centennial in 1982, has aged rather well, its haunting calls seeming more plaintive and nostalgic with the explanation of its origin - the composer wrote it from the roof of a hotel while contemplating the Buffaloscape. The ASQ played it in the dark, Halloween style, giving a spooky boost to its bent-tone cries and rustles.

The big work on the program was Ida Gotkovsky's "Quatour de Saxophones" (1988), beautifully played by the quartet, from the sassy walking bass and chorale opening, a kind of chromatic blues second movement, darkly searching tendrils of melody in the "Lineare," to the ritualistic mystery of the "Cantilene." Only in the supercharged finale did one feel that the performers were sacrificing something for control - that run-away, hurtling, damn-the-mistakes performance that can be breathtaking rather than merely impressive. The delightful "Ophelia Rag" and "Rigamarole Rag" closed the program.

Concerto No. 1 BWV 592, Johann Sebastian Bach
Flapper Era Dances (1994), Allen Sigel
Phantom Melos (1981), Rocco Di Pietro
Quatuor des Saxophones, Ida Gotkovsky
Works for the sax work for Quartet