Saxophone Quartet plays Perry prize winner

Works reviewed: 
Quartet for Four Saxophones (1989), Anita D. Perry
Saxophone Quartet (1991), Michael Sahl
Quartet in e minor, Giuseppe Verdi
Buffalo News
Buffalo, NY
Nov 25 1991
By: 
Herman Trotter

It's hard to characterize this concert succinctly, because in addition to unveiling the third prize winner in the ensemble's composition contest, there was also a world premiere and a quasi premiere. Bear with us.

At the center of the program was the Quartet for Four Saxophones in the Classical Style by British Columbian composer Anita Perry, second runner up in the ASQ's composition competition. The ASQ thinks well enough of this work that it has already been recorded for the ensemble's next MCA compact disc, with release scheduled for next year.

Perry's Quartet is absolutely unpretentious, a lightweight work with ingenuous running lines, quiet mood painting, unashamed horseplay and a lot of canonic chasing. One gets the feeling of honesty and spontaneity. Because of this, the music has a very individual and memorable profile.

On my second exposure I am still enchanted by the pulsing beat Perry uses to buoy up the first movement's repeated rising motif as it courses through a series of satisfying and occasionally unexpected modulations. A similar pulsing figure is used more sparingly to add texture to the slow movement's lovely pastel reverie, while the scherzo takes that word literally. It's a joke, with unexpected pauses, strange intervals and ornamentation, horse laughs and one surprise best left unexplained.

The world premiere was Michael Sahl's 1991 Saxophone Quartet. In the composer's notes he says that the soul of the piece is harmony, but he gives no clues as to its structure.

After a languorous introduction, a jumbly, eccentric allegro emerged, touching off a series of interludes in which all four instruments were almost continually playing, thereby enriching that harmonic soul.

Texturally, these interludes were not all that differentiated one from another, and I had the strong visual imagery of a succession of highly detailed carved wood panels or rich tapestries passing before my eyes, not so much like a theme and variations as a simple parade.

The musical content of these panels/tapestries was highly lyrical, warmly and throbbingly sonorous and it came as something of a jolt when there was a complete break, a resumption in more intimate sonority and slower tempo, followed by a furious prestissimo to conclude.

What's a quasi premiere? Well, it's Verdi's 1873 String Quartet in E minor, which the ASQ has played before, but which was being heard on Sunday in the first performance of a new transcription by quartet members Harry Fackelman and Stephen Rosenthal.

Contrasts abound in this transcription, from the smooth-as-glass opening movement to the jocular Andantino which gradually turns serious and the treacherous Prestissimo third movement.

It was here that the ASQ had its only technical problems of the evening, some of the articulation losing its crispness. It was only a momentary lapse, because in the equally difficult scampering, staccato Finale the ensemble's virtuosity in keeping those precipitous passages clean was remarkable.

Saxophone Quartet plays Perry prize winner