Souvenirs from Bellini's Norma (1984), Rocco Di Pietro

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Souvenirs from Bellini's Norma (1984), Rocco Di Pietro
Year of Composition: 1984     Composed for the ASQ


Buffalo News (Buffalo, NY)
Monday, October 5, 1992
Sax quartet opens new season in new home
Herman Trotter

Smaller hall at Nichols School embelishes the group's expertise
The Amherst Saxophone Quartet opened its 15th year Sunday evening in a new home base, the wood-paneled Boocock Library on the Nichols School's Amherst Street campus.

This site is smaller than such previous series locations as Rockwell Hall, the Historical Society Auditorium and Canisius College's Christ the King Chapel. As a result the ensemble's sound seemed closer, more intimate, and perhaps even a bit louder than we were accustomed to, but the library'S vaulted ceiling and wood paneling also lent a welcome richness and warmth to the sonority so that the new location seems entirely hospitable.

For this concert The quartet also was seated in a straight line facing the audience instead of the usual rectangular pattern facing each other. There were a few times, mostly in the opening Bach "Fugue a la Gigue," when the greater difficulty in making eye contact seemed to effect the ASQ's usual seamless ensemble.

But their customary spirited playing was very much in evidence during the trademark concluding group of highly amiable jazz and ragtime pieces, which included premieres of four works by the ensemble's alto saxophonist Russ Carere, not necessarily intended to be played together but offered in succession this time.

The jazz derived works were "Rainbows" and "Take Off," the former built on gently fluttering layered lines with solos arching over-top and pulsing accompaniment, while the latter was a mellow and mildly pungent rumination ultimately dominated by an entreating, wailing melodic figure.

Carere's ragtime pieces were the easy swinging "River Walk," based on a jaunty three-note falling and rising figure, and the more rapid and angular "Falconer Street."

Soprano saxophonist Sal Andolina's arrangement of Zez Confrey's "Audacity" was flat-out ragtime, rollicking and rolling along to conclude the program in the prototypical ASQ manner.

For me the meatiest part of the program was Leo Smit's "Tzadik." The Buffalo-based composer says the title refers to revered Hasidic secular leaders able to conjure mystic spells. The music had this quality in abundance, opening in an incantation of deep chordal dissonance, going on to a series of primal shouts, a joyous street dance like a hora, some plodding but hypnotically fascinating processional passages and even a static but subtle progression reminiscent of a Schoenbergian "klangfarbenmelodie" (tone color melody).

It's a very episodic piece of some 15 minutes duration, but the ASQ's understanding, commitment and musicianship made it all hang together very effectively.

Representing the standard sax quartet literature was Pierre Lantier's 1942 "Andante and Scherzetto," offering sonorities which seemed particularly smooth and suave after the Yiddish chatter and wails of "Tzadik." The Andante, although music absolutely without a program, is the kind of rhapsody which can evoke bright, shining Spring days. The ASQ played it with gentle, undulating line and superb ensemble balance, while the Scherzetto, with its jaunty melody recalling "We're off to see the Wizard," made a brief and delightfully capricious finale.

Music of another Buffalo-based composer, Rocco Di Pietro, opened the second half. His "Souvenirs from Bellini's 'Norma'" was unashamed bel canto fine-lined melody over typically thin harmonization and repetitive oom-pah-pah supporting figurations. It was altogether engaging, and played with an obvious understanding of bel canto essences.

Rainbows, Russ Carere
Take Off, Russ Carere
Falconer Street, Russ Carere
Tzadik (1983), Leo Smit
Andante et Scherzetto, Pierre Lantier
Souvenirs from Bellini's Norma (1984), Rocco Di Pietro
River Walk, Russ Carere
Sax quartet opens new season in new home