Sax life of Riley is boring

Works reviewed: 
I Sugo (2000), Stephen Parisi
Mandala Miniatures (2000), Terry Riley
Chamber Symphony for Saxophone Quartet, Andrew Stiller
Saxophone Quartet, Chan Ka Nin
Buffalo News
Buffalo, NY
Mar 25 2000
Herman Trotter

The final concert on the Amherst Saxophone Quartet's 1999-2000 series, in UB's Slee Hall, explores works composed specifically for the ensemble.

Two works received world premieres. concluding with Stephen Parisi's "I Sugo." Scored as a quintet for saxes and marimba, played by Raymond Bennett, the gently clattering marimb provided a textural expansion of ensemble sonority which, it must be said, was quite welcome after the rather tiresome expanse of the other new work, Terry Riley's "Mandala Miniatures."

Riley's 16 movements may have consumed only 28 minutes, but their passing in such rapid succession left the feeling that he had manv good ideas, but didn't take the time to develop them. There wasn't one of the movements that was in any way unpleasant, but the continuum just got boring.

By contrast, Parisi's "I Sugo" offered unusual sonic blends in the first movement, where Harry Fackelman's baritone sax and Bennett's marimba engaged in an extended, minimalist dialogue over a repeated theme of halting character. This gave way to the quite lovely effect of a richly scored chorale melody for the four reeds that the marimba embroidered with discreet trills.

The jazzy pulse of the Scherzo finale, with some punctuating jabs by the marimba and a renegade sax concluded the piece on a happily upbeat note.

Over the years, one of the most satisfying of the ASQ's commissions has been Andrew Stiller's 1983 Chamber Symphony, reprised to open this concert. Its gritty integrity is established in the first movement's hard-charging, high-stepping theme, which is contrasted by quarter tone excursions whose dissonance threatens dissolution of the u,u ement, but is swept aside by the dogged main theme.

The slow movement's rich harmonization of a simple folk theme and its occasional modal flavors offer an interlude of exceptional beauty, followed by a mocking Menuetto of pulsing tread, which gives off Kurt Weill flavors, and a final Presto that flies. along repetitively, with some convulsive gurgling sounds like musical indigestion, and a concluding eruption with oblique vocal references to the Mount St. Helens cataclysm.

Here and in Chan Ka Nin's 1989 Saxophone Quartet, the ASQ performances were dazzling in both their technical and interpretive aspects. The form of Nin's work, which won the ASQ's '91 Competition, is intriguing in its inexorable progression from thorny, jagged lines and wide interval leaps to progressively calmer and more sonorous terrain. Throughout, the listener's ear is kept alert by unusual effects such as overarching wails and warbling textures.

Sax life of Riley is boring