Quatuor, op. 122 (1942), Joseph Jongen

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Quatuor, op. 122 (1942), Joseph Jongen
Year of Composition: 1942    

Review

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)
Monday, October 31, 1994
Amherst Quartet avoids all the potholes
Herman Trotter

Fresh from a tour touching down in Erie, Pa., and Beaufort, S.C., during which they played to capacity audiences, the Amherst Saxophone Quartet returned to its home base on Sunday evening to do its bit for the opening festivities at the new UB Center for the Arts and was greeted by a sparse crowd estimated at less than a quarter of a house.

They offered, for the only time in this area, the same program with which they will tour all season. It was comprised of transcriptions, original works for saxes and the ensemble's signature closing mix of jazz and ragtime.

The only work common to this program and the first of the ensemble's series programs offered earlier in October was the opening transcription of a composition by Bach, which the program erroneously identified simply as "K.592." Most listeners, of course, recognized this as a misplaced Mozart Koechel Number.

In his jovial verbal correction of this error, however, spokesman Steve Rosenthal never did fully identify the Bach work in question. It's the Bach-Vivaldi Concerto No. 1 for Solo Organ, BWV 592. Other than noting that the brief, three-movement concerto was played with a good pulse, pliant phrasing and very deft dovetailing of the Finale's lightning fast exchanges, I'd refer the reader to contributing critic Kenneth Young's review in the Oct. 11 for a unique viewpoint on this work.

The three original works for saxes at the center of the program were the meat and potatoes of this concert, but carefully varied in their flavors.

The form of Belgian composer Joseph Jongen's Saxophone Quartet was hard to discern — either a multi-movement work played without pauses or perhaps just a free fantasy. At any rate, it opened with the baritone sax in a rhythmic figure of a rather jaunty demeanor which set a sort of dominant tone. The music then proceeded through several contrasting sections, some with wonderfully fanciful and ornate lyric lines, in which serious and insouciant attitudes seemed to jockey for dominance. But over the longer pull that opening jovial, jaunty ambience kept returning like the rondo theme in a classical symphony or sonata. The extraordinary ensemble performance in the work's tricky rhythms held the larger' form together and emphasized both its serious overall intent and its more playful subsections.

Grand Island composer Stephen Parisi's Saxophone Quartet (11 years in the making, 1980-91) is of a lighter but no less intriguing intent. Its three movements evoked reminiscences ranging from updated old English dances with lots of assertive noodling overlays, to a restful and flowing center with a slight blues tinge, and an almost pointillist final movement, jabbing and assertive with rhythmic pitfalls everywhere. The ASQ avoided all those potholes, playing with technical brilliance while preserving the genial nature of the score.

Former Buffalonian Rocco DiPietro's "Phantom Melos" was quite different, very open in texture, groping and mysterious in its questing lyrical lines, and occasionally dropping an extended phrase with operatic aria resonances. Its apparent climax was reached in a complicated, chattery, cacophonous, staccato section, only to relax into ghostly harmonies and receding tension and the musicians, one by one, stopped playing and turned off their stand lights to end in total darkness.

Jazz and rags concluded the program, with works of Eubie Blake, Euday Bowman, ASQ member Russ Carere and Miles Davis. The latter's "All Blues" in an arrangement by Harry Fackelman was a standout, with its fanciful solos by soprano Sal Andolina and alto Carere over a rocking blues ostinato figure.
 

Concerto No. 1 BWV 592, Johann Sebastian Bach
Quatuor, op. 122 (1942), Joseph Jongen
Quartet No. 1 (1992), Stephen Parisi
Phantom Melos (1981), Rocco Di Pietro
All Blues, Miles Davis
Amherst Quartet avoids all the potholes
News-Gazette (Lexington, VA)
Wednesday, November 4, 1987
Quartet's Showmanship Dazzling
James W.H. Stewart Jr.

"And here we go with another classical saxophone recital," tenor sax maniac Steven Rosenthal mock-solemnly intones, a seemingly matter-of-fact introduction. But, as a matter of fact, can you state the place, time of day, month and year when you last attended (let alone stayed awake at) a classical saxophone recital? You might be hard pressed to remember, unless you saw the Johnny Carson show in 1985 when the Amherst Saxophone Quartet unleashed its brand of impeccable musicianship and P.D.Q. Bach showmanship on insomniacs everywhere.

The volatile ingredients of the Amherst Saxophone Quartet are Salvatore Andolina, soprano saxophone; Michael Nascimben, alto saxophone; Steven Rosenthal, tenor saxophone; and Harry Fackelman, baritone saxophone. This configuration parellels that of the string quartet and adds to their argument that European classical music had a repertoire and tradition for saxophone well before Amencan jazz made the saxophone America's premier instrument. On Wednesday, Oct. 28, the quartet Seminary Junior College.

Essentially, European composers have treated the saxophone as a woodwind instrument from the invention of the family by Adolph Sax in 1846, while jazz and popular styles treated saxophones more as brass instruments with harsher, brighter sonorities. The Amherst Quartet's program explored the saxophone's remarkable potential for chamber music with a wide variety of delightful pieces by regrettably obscure composers.

The Introduction et Scherzo and "Serenade Melancolique" by Robert Clerisse alternated roundlike among the instruments with smooth neoclassical tunes, suggesting what Mozart might have written for the saxophone had he lived to hear it. The "Serenade" also showed the influence of Debussy with its piquant, whole tones.
 
"Sevilla," a transcription of a piece composed by Isaac Albeniz around the turn of the century, featured typically Spanish rhythms in 6/8 time. But the development of the piece was anything but typical, with some shining soliloquies for the soprano sax, while baritonist Fackelman honked amusingly in the deep register.

Rosenthal introduced the next piece as "the brilliantly entitled Quartuor por Saxophones," which means quartet for saxophones, by Joseph Jongen (1942). In one movement, the piece's gradual transition to an eloquent andante, then to a final snake dancelike allegro, gives the impression of three distinct movements. Oddly, the soprano and alto saxes foreshadowed the four-note "Twilight Zone" motif, written almost 20 years later than this piece, while a smooth melody for tenor sax floated over. But there is basically nothing otherworldly about this sociably droll music. Like a Tom and Jerry cartoon, whose music the piece also predicts, the impression is given that each member of the cast will get up and shake hands after the cream and seltzer' water have been mopped up.

The Introduction and Capriccio by Steven Parisi showcased Andolina's remarkable gift for making his soprano sax sound uncommonly like a flute, oboe, clarinet and even trumpet! The Capriccio also featured some devilishly tricky ensemble rhythms handled with aplomb.

After a brief intermission, the group returned with a transcription by altoist Nascimbom of Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor. Subjected to innumerable transcriptions by the likes of Stokowski, the Swingle Singers, and Walter Wendy Carlos, this great warhorse got a fine treatment by the players, excepting some minor fudging by the soprano and alto. But for a cake as nice as this, a little fudge is just a minor sin. Of course, I would never be so heartless a reviewer as to suggest that the reason this was the only piece with mistakes was that it was the only piece on the program I knew. A fine reading overall.

The Quartet for Saxophone, Op. 31, by Jean Absil, exploited massed trills and tremulos to great sonic effect, with some more amusing quotes. The second movement opening suggests the beginning of the third movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, while the third movement opening mimicked the speakeasy intro of Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue." I suppose this provides a nice illustration of how the motifs of nauseatingly overplayed classics can be used to introduce pieces that are totally unrelated. The piece was great fun and deserves to be heard again.

The last two segments of the program brought the saxophone back to its American jazz and ragtime roots, and neatly completed in my mind the perception of jazz and ragtime as American classical music. The "Jazz Vignettes" by Andrew White and the transcriptions of Eubie Blake's ragtimes made light of the contributions of the Count Basie big band and Lester Young, among others, who discovered whole new ways of writing for and playing the saxophone. These contributions again sounded fresh against the historical context with which the quartet contrasted them. The Amherst Saxophone Quartet has contributed immeasurably to our understanding of the "yakkety sax."

At the end, having imitated the flute, oboe, clarinet, trumpet and even Lawrence Wclk 's accordian, soprano saxist Andolina topped it all by mimicking the harp. I am referring, of course. to his ridiculous Harpo Marx gestures, inciting the crowd to clap and shut up by turns. And as if all of that were not enough, when Rosenthal made a mock pathetic appeal to the audience to buy the albums in the lobby, Andolina, while the baritonist played a maudlin tune, held his soprano sax to his neck like a violin and "played" with an imaginary bow. One more corny gesture like that, and the audience might well have imitated violence. An educational good time was had by all.

Quatuor pour saxophones, op. 31, Jean Absil
Introduction and Capriccio (1981), Stephen Parisi
Quatuor, op. 122 (1942), Joseph Jongen
Sevilla, Isaac Albéniz
Introduction et Scherzo (1957), Robert Clerisse
Serenade Melancolique, Robert Clérisse
Quartet's Showmanship Dazzling

Composer Biography

1873 — 1953

Jongen, Joseph (1873-1953), Belgian composer and organist, entered the Liege Conservatory at the age of seven. He showed an outstanding gift for organ improvisation, and began to compose at the age of 13. Jongen saw himself as an independent composer, though many important influences varied throughout his life. Up to Op. 30 (1906-07) Jongen's music recalls Franck, leaning towards a harmonic, rather than a contrapuntal basis. In about 1921, the influence of Debussy and Ravel become apparent.

Composition Notes

Buffalo News critic Herman Trotter reviewed the Quatour 0p.122 as follows, "The composer drew from a number of styles; big and bombastic, simple and folk like, and deftly jazz influenced." Jongen was one of the best known Belgian composers in the 20th century, writing some 241 works, but near the end of his life, applying severe standards of self-criticism, withdrew all but 137 pieces. We feel fortunate the Op. 122 survived.