Saxophone quartet gives audience surprising tour of versatile repertoire

Works reviewed: 
Nuages, Eugene Bozza
Quartet No. 1 (1992), Stephen Parisi
Histoire du Tango, Astor Piazzolla
Greenville News, The
Greenville, S.C.
Apr 9 1994
By: 
Janie Caves McCauley

The Amherst Saxophone Quartet brought their brand of serious fun to the Peace Centers Gunter Theatre Friday evening. The ensemble made a convincing case for the versatility of the saxophone as they performed works ranging from classical transcriptions and modern compositions for saxophone ensemble to selections of American jazz and ragtime. But while the quartet clearly presented both the serious and light capabilities of the sax, they also called upon the audience to give up the old stereotypes of chamber music as dry and stuffy. Serving as emcee for the program, tenor saxophonist Stephen Rosenthal introduced the concert by briefing the audience on etiquette. He followed up with a running commentary on the program, sprinkling in wry wit and a few antics along the way. The inevitable Clinton jokes were there as well. Most of the program consisted of chamber music with no strings attached. First the quartet played a transcription of a B-flat Major sonata in four movements by Handel. If the outer movements seemed a bit overblown in the saxophone timbre, the second movement fugue worked better. Each voice was clearly distinguishable in well-shaped lines. The effect might best be described as calliope-like. The third movement was also quite beautiful. But when alls said, Im not especially moved by baroque music transcribed for instruments introduced more than a century later. As the ASQ began to play modern works from the sax ensemble repertory, however, the reason for their success in the world of chamber music became apparent. The four displayed a surprising range of tone color, both dramatic and lyrical, as they charted this territory. Nuages-Scherzo by the French composer Eugene Bozza is a brief tone poem for saxophone quartet. Here the four played with impeccable control and balance. The players fingers flew up and down the metal tubes, performing the saxophone counterpart of The Flight of the Bumblebee with flawless ensemble. Another highlight of the concert was a substantial work by contemporary American composer Stephen Parisi. Saxophone Quartet (1992) is brisk and tuneful in its opening movement, which gives the soprano saxophonist quite a workout. The second movement, which begins slowly, shows off the saxs smooth, buttery tones. The finale, although dissonant at times, offers pleasing melodic motifs and an interesting texture. Histoire du Tango, a four-movement work by Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla, works well in Claude Voirpys arrangement for saxophones. In the jaunty first movement, Bordel 1900, the virtuosity of the individual players was most apparent. Their tones blended beautifully in the lyrical section of Cafe 1930. After all such serious fun had ended, the ASQ played classics of American jazz and ragtime. In Miles Davis All Blues, first the soprano and then the alto sax comes to the fore as the other instruments provide a soft, repetitive accompaniment. In the end, alto sax player Russ Carere makes his instrument wail boisterously. The lighter side of the program included two compositions by Carere, Masako and Opus 10. The foray into syncopation also included 12th Street Rag. Harry Fackelman had his moment to strut in the baritone runs of Eubie Blakes Charleston Rag. The final encore was a finger-snapping, lithe rendition of The Pink Panther theme.

Saxophone quartet gives audience surprising tour of versatile repertoire