Saxophone Quartet No. 4 (1976), Russell Howland

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Saxophone Quartet No. 4 (1976), Russell Howland
Year of Composition: 1976    
Slow, Allegretto


Buffalo News (Buffalo, NY)
Tuesday, November 19, 1996
Amherst Saxophone Quartet finds modern music that fills the bill
Herman Trotter

Contemporary music written specifically for four saxophones (no transcriptions) made up the bill of fare for Monday's concert by the Amherst Saxophone Quartet.

Well, there was one transcription, the concluding "Rudy Wiedoeft Suite," which included three pieces for solo sax by Wiedoeft, a sort of father figure in the sax world, arranged for quartet by Ted Hegvik. The outer movements were ragtime infused, played with footloose abandon, and separated by a charming waltz with tantalizingly exaggerated rubato.

There was a consistently high level of quality in this program. When the dust had settled, this listener was left with the confirmation that a previous high opinion of Anita Perry's 1989 Quartet for Four Saxophones still held true.

Perry's work is light in character and delightful to hear, with an especially engaging opening Allegro built on free, almost improvisational running lines over an energizing pulsing beat in the baritone. The lovely, floating, sustained Andante was beautifully controlled and shaped, while Scherzo had an "oompah" quality in its herky-jerky rhythms. There were intricately dovetailing lines in the Finale's rampaging romp.

The sustained soft, transparent textures of Russell Howland's 1976 Saxophone Quartet No. 4 gave the work a French sounding quality. Its crown, I felt, was the slow movement where graceful cantabile lines were woven over a baritone ostinato, then developing into a slow fugue on an ascending scale figure. The free-flowing, improvisational first movement and the energetic Finale, with its whimsical mood changes, marked Howland's work as a winner.

I was also intrigued by Michael Zak's 1996 "As the World Passes Quickly Below Me, I Fly to My Creator." I can't fathom the title, but the music was Interesting, a slow, probing piece of unsettled tonality and a sense of adventure about where it was going. An interesting chirping texture developed, along with a continuing strong sense of progression, if not resolution.

The premiere of a revised version of Dick Hyman's 1984 Scherzo for Saxophone Quartet revealed a modified scherzo form, with many contrasting interludes giving it the feel of a rondo as well.

Foot stomping and hand clapping accompanied a rather brisk, quasi-jazzy, stuttering melodic line in the first movement of David P. Jones 1989 "Mass Transit." A plaintive slow movement and a Finale with lots of cross rhythms and aggressive, hard-edged polyphony concluded the work.

I'm sure that from the inside the quartet's members could point out a number of places where they felt their performances could have been improved.

But from the outside none of this was apparent. Their technique ensemble, and unanimity in matters of phrasing, dynamic and tempo changes and the smallest nuances seemed polished to an extraordinary degree, leaving the comfortable feeling that everything they played was presented in the best possible light.

Rudy Wiedoeft Suite, Rudy Wiedoeft
Quartet for Four Saxophones (1989), Anita D. Perry
Saxophone Quartet No. 4 (1976), Russell Howland
As the World Passes Quickly Below Me, I Fly to My Creator (1996), Michael Zak
Scherzo for Saxophone Quartet (1984), Dick Hyman
Mass Transit (1989), David P. Jones
Amherst Saxophone Quartet finds modern music that fills the bill

Composer Biography

1908 — 1995

Howland, Russell, was a saxophonist and composer from California. He composed ten saxophone quartets for his own quartet to perform. Only the first two works were published, and both of those have been in the ASQ's repertory since the early 1980s. We had heard rumors that Mr. Howland had written more quartets, but we were told that they were unpublished and unavailable. In 1994, the ASQ performed with Raymond Harvey and the Fresno Philharmonic Orchestra. During the rehearsal, we were approached by one of the Orchestra's musicians who had been a member of the Howland Quartet. He offered to send us several more of the pieces. Howland's Saxophone Quartets, Numbers 2, 3, and 4 are now in the ASQ repertory.