Sax quartet, percussionists join in 4 world premieres

Works reviewed: 
Wind Quartet in Eb Major, Op. 8 #2, Karl Stamitz
Nine Waltzes and an Ecossaise (1991), Nils Vigeland
Ives Music Two (1991), Nils Vigeland
Just In, Russ Carere
Rustle Bustle, Russ Carere
Buffalo News
Buffalo, NY
Oct 7 1991
Herman Trotter

An ephemeral quality seemed almost inadvertently to dominate much of this season opener by the nationally acclaimed, Buffalo-based Amherst Saxophone Quartet.

It was a very attractive program, with four world premieres included: two each by Nils Vigeland, a Buffalo native now an important cog in New York City's contemporary music scene, and by Russ Carerc, the quartet's alto saxophonist.

Chalk up another first time presentation for tenor saxophonist Stephen Rosenthal's transcription of the Wind Quartet in E-Flat. Op. 8 No, 2 by Karl Stamitz. The work is a couple of hundred years old. but this was the first airing of Rosenthal's arrangement for saxes.

Brevity and charm mingled in equal measure here. Its three movements are, successively, light and buoyant, gently lilting and plaintive, and brimming with bouncing vitality. The performance seemed to catch those qualities with great fidelity and a casual stance that made one yearn for just a little extension of the teasingly short piece.

Also gone before you really got your ear attuned to them were the 15 short movements that make up Vigeland's two premiered works. His "Nine Waltzes and an Ecossaise" is scored for sax ensemble alone, is said to be a tribute to Schubert, and is composed in the highly accessible but spikily adventurous tonal language which has evolved in Vigcland's mature years.

But I couldn't finish taking notes for one movement before the next was on top of me. Taking five consecutive movements at random, here's what my foreshortened notes say: "Staccato with dissonant final chord, Stravinskyish; Spatial off-beat noodling: Sonorous and slickly glistening: Chattery and short: Intoxicatedly improvisatory."

For Vigeland's other premiere, "Ives Music Two," the Maelstrom Percussion Ensemble joined the Amherst crew, adding vibraphones, chimes, drums and cymbals to the reedy texture. With only five movements, I expected a bit more expansive treatment, but these pieces, too, seemed to vanish before you could get a good fix on them.

An alleged meeting of lves and Gershwin at Westminster Bridge seemed to get shrouded in the London fog. with the vibraphones overshadowed for the most part. Most successful was "Samantha Smith," a recollection of the American girl made famous by her letter to Yuri Andropov. Here, over a gently clangorous cantus firmus. the soprano sax invoked full participation of its three reed colleagues in an ingeniously shaped movement which rode out on an insistent rat-a-tat on the glockenspiel.

Carere's two works, also very brief, were pure jazz, written for two of his sons. An electronic drum track detracted from the very upbeat "Just-In," while "Rustle Bustle," a bit slower and more suave, seemed to reflect the flavor of classic popular tunes of the 1930s.

Slightly more substantial was Sal Andolina's arrangement of Horace Silver's "Song for My Father," breezily wailing in a jumpy, lyrical West Coast style, with a big soprano solo at its center.

This left Bernard Hoffer's 1974 Variations on a Theme of Stravinsky (from "Petrouchka") as the only work on the program of substantial length and with a consistent focus, The variations ranged from a noodly conversational quality to pointillist textures, scalar canonic passages, tolling triad repetitions, and many free running improvisatory sounding sections, all fired by a genuine lyric impulse. The performance of this difficult work was impeccable.

Sax quartet, percussionists join in 4 world premieres