Sax quartet plays with heart, soul

Works reviewed: 
'Round Midnight, Thelonious Monk
Sax Appeal (1990), David Stock
Housing Project (1985), William Ortiz
Mr. Bill Goes to Washington, Keith Powell
Pittsburgh Post-Gaxette
Pittsburgh, PA
Mar 25 1993
Mark Kanny

Now that there's a sax player in the White House there will be no stopping the, Amherst Saxophone Quartet.
Their concert last night, which included a novelty piece about the musically literate president, marked the return of this ensemble to Carnegie Lecture Hall.

Last season the Amherst Saxophone Quartet helped launch the Backdoor Concerts at The Carnegie. Once again, tenor sax player Stephen Rosenthal punned so uncontrollably that he drew friendly hissing from the audience. But the musicians' playful attitude creates an engaging atmosphere.

Yet it's not as thought they are casual about their music. Together for fifteen years, they are complete masters of their instruments. Their stylistic versatility and expressive sensitivity are world class.

Equally impressive and rare is the selection of music they play. Last night's concert showed why the Amherst Saxophone Quartet just earned the ASCAP/Chamber Music America 1993  first prize for adventuresome programming.

The concert opened with a rich performance of Thelonious Monk's "Round Midnight." One expects but should not take for granted that sax players will excel at jazz.

Handel followed Monk. That's a leap stylistically, but it was no problem for these musicians. In fact, the way soprano sax player Salvatore Andolina made long notes burst with feeling could serve as a model for any musician playing baroque music.

Several works on the program were commissioned by the Amherst Saxophone' Quartet. David Stock's "Sax Appeal," first heard at Summerfest three years ago, holds up welL Hearing it again, the lyrical impulse of the Sarabande and the high energy of the outer movements were impressive.

"Housing Project" by William Ortiz, written in 1985, was an affectionate recollection of childhood. The folk tune and brief bit of singing by the instrumentalists are minor parts of a lovely major piece, lasting more than 12 minutes.

The evening's major novelty was "Mr. Bill Goes to Washington," written for this concert by Keith Powell, a graduate student in composition at Carnegie MeIlon.

Music was the servant of humor, as fragments of "Hail to the Chief" were folded into other music. The famous opening of Wagner's "Tristan" was included to contrast chromatic with chronological music. "God Save the King" was a reference both to Elvis and to Bill's time at Oxford.

No less inevitable for these players than funning the president was the encore, Henry Mancini's PInk Panther theme. It served as a recessional, with the audience still snapping its fingers as the musicians bopped off stage."

Sax quartet plays with heart, soul