Toccata in d minor, Johann Sebastian Bach

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Toccata in d minor, Johann Sebastian Bach
Year of Composition:    
Lowell Shaw
Allegro moderato


Buffalo News (Buffalo, NY)
Saturday, April 10, 1999
Amherst Saxophone Quartet rises to the occasion
Herman Trotter

The 1997 Saxophone Quartet composed by Theodore Wiprud was jointly commissioned by the Amherst Saxophone Quartet and several other ensembles, and has had prior partial performances and has undergone considerable subsequent revision.

The final version of the work was given its initial airing during Friday evening's concert, with the composer on hand to offer comments and listening guides.

The composer says it relies heavily on the whole step as a building block, and sure enough, right at the opening rising whole steps were successively hurled at us in angry bursts by the baritone, tenor, alto and soprano.

The movement's expressive marking is "assertive," and although there eventually was an island of repose in a prolonged slow section, its dominant character relied on music's vertical elements. The key interval appeared in canonic fashion, chordal segments, with a lot of syncopation and key silences, all with intriguing development.

The second movement is marked "Punchy" and is obsessed with staccato playing, much of it undergirded by unfolding lyrical lines. A simple three-note riff swung with increasing energy into a rather bluesy slow section, which Wiprud called an encapsulated slow movement. The staccato dominance returned both as a focus and as support for a series of cadenzas with a decidedly wailing jazz slant. some toneless key slaps and a quick, chirping ending.

The final movement ("Brisk") had a rather "scattered" texture reminiscent of the previous movements, then waded into a sonorous chordal passage and concluded with lightning rising scales and an energetic final fillip.

Although the work showed a lot of originality, imagination and truly held one's attention, the predominance of vertical concerns over sustained linear musical thoughts tended to make the first hearing a bit one-dimensional.

Another premiere was Stephen Rosenthal's transcription of Dvorak's String Quartet in F ("American"). Although the playing of the ensemble, here and elsewhere, was technically and musically superb, it seemed that the translation of string writing to saxes resulted in everything sounding two markings louder than usual: for example, "mf" sounded like "ff."

In addition, there is something about the impingement of the sonorities of the four saxes on each other that produces resonances and overtones which sound alien to those of us who are familiar with the string original. Even the gentle opening trill on the soprano saxophone was so out of character with one's memory of the string quartet that it was almost a "squeaky chalk on the blackboard" experience. And when the soprano in ensemble was pushed into the upper register, there was a reaching quality to the projection which made it sound flat.

It all fell together better in the final movement, leaving a good ring in the ear, but the overall experience was a disappointment.

Lowell Shaw's transcription of Bach's Toccata in D minor for clavier was far more successful, and the superbly articulated supporting lines by baritone Harry Fackelman were a continual pleasure.

Belgian composer Jean Absil's brief, sassy and scampering Quartet, Op. 31 made a fine concert closer, with its intriguing sequential entrances in the slow movement and the finale with an alto opening reminiscent of the famous clarinet solo in "Rhapsody in Blue."

Saxophone Quartet (1997), Theodore Wiprud
Quartet in F Major, Op. 96, Antonin Dvorak
Toccata in d minor, Johann Sebastian Bach
Quatuor pour saxophones, op. 31, Jean Absil
Amherst Saxophone Quartet rises to the occasion
Buffalo News (Buffalo, NY)
Tuesday, April 8, 1997
Quartet plays Slee with practiced ease
Herman Trotter

The Amherst Saxophone Quartet opened Monday's concert with the delightfully breezy Overture to the Concerto in F by Vivaldi, with its fine, high-flying soprano lines.
They then proceeded to pack a lot of interesting and varied music into the less than two hours which separated that from the racing and chattery fourth movement Allegro of J. S. Bach's statuesque and nobly sculptured Toccata in D minor, originally for harpsichord, whIch concluded the program.
There were the luxuriant surface sonorities of Handel in his Concerto Grosso in E minor, Op. 6 No.3, whose lovely, reposeful opening Larghetto was just the first offering of many distinctively Handelian thematic profiles throughout the work.

These musicians play extraordinarily well together. Therefore I have to conclude that the ungracious upper register sounds in the central Allegro movement were more the result of the arrangement's tonal impingements than any lapse by the players.

The Handel Concerto Grosso also featured a Polonaise movement unusual for the baroque era, whose wide ranging melodic contours led to an attractive variety of ensemble textures.

In Johann Christian Bach's Sinfonietta in C there was evidence of a shift away from papa J. S. Bach's baroque mastery and toward a less contrapuntal style. It rather brisk tempos and a fascinating pulsing baritone support line contributed to its very jaunty, snappy, engaging effect, but did not prevent the piece from having much of the softness of Handel.

As a personal opinion, I enjoyed the seldom heard Sinfonia in G by Giovanni Battista Sammartini as much as anything on the program.

It was full of bracing energy, descending running lines, delicious and pulse-quickening modulations, teasing pauses in mid-flight and themes with widely flung intervals. And above all, it just seemed like it would be an awful lot of fun to play.

Karl Stamitz's Wind Quartet in E-Flat was another charmer, with themes passed around canonically, a poignant central Andante movement and a chuffing Allegro with engaging turns of melodic line to conclude.

Concerto in F, Op. 3, n. 7, Antonio Vivaldi
Toccata in d minor, Johann Sebastian Bach
Concerto Grosso in e minor, Op. 6 #3, George Fredrick Handel
Sinfonietta in C, Johann Christian Bach
Sinfonia in G Major, Giovanni Battista Sammartini
Wind Quartet in Eb Major, Op. 8 #2, Karl Stamitz
Quartet plays Slee with practiced ease
Buffalo News, The (Buffalo, NY)
Thursday, September 28, 1995
The luxuriant sound of baroque saxes
Thomas Putnam

The Amherst Saxophone Quartet played a baroque program Wednesday night in the acoustically warm Buffalo Seminary chapel, and they were not trespassing. This tight choir of saxophones made the made-for-organ pieces sound especially luxuriant, the capstone of the program being the dramatic and thrilling Toccata and Fugue in d minor by Bach. In this transcription by Harry Fackelman (the baritone saxophonist in the quartet), one was easily swept up in the harmonic sound and the bold lines. Not every easy way was taken, either. The closing passage for alto saxophone, for example, was played by Russ Carere with brave staccato attacks. (Click for additional Toccata review.) There was more Bach along the way, including a wonderful piece by a son of Bach, J.C. Bach. Two movements from a sinfonietta by this precursor of Mozart may have been snuck into this baroque concert room in the pocket of the rather large coat; but we must be glad they were allowed to remain, that no usher representing Authenticity threw them out. This young Bach's music is remarkable for the distance it takes from the music of the conservative father. For that and for its natural good grace and appealing character. It is altogether classic. (Click for additional Sinfonietta review.) The reactionary father -- and we are glad for that. The Amherst saxophonists played one other organ work by J.S. --the Prelude and Fugue in c minor, and what a wonderful reedy sound it had, and how near the sound an organ can make. We also heard a transcription of Bach's Orchestral Suite No. 1 in C, which perhaps more than any other piece on the program sounded like a reduction -- you missed the colorings that give the part-writing clarity. One bit of genius was the arrangement by Stephen Rosenthal, the tenor saxophonist, of songs by John Dowland. This Elizabethan group of vocal pieces works extremely well, for the saxophones easily enter this harmonic world, so rich and clean at the same time. Rhythm here is terribly captivating -- it takes little hops, skips and jumps that make a spirit sit up. A large piece by Handel, a Concerto in d minor (more like a suite, it seemed), was notable for its radiant-sounding harmonies, and for the way the saxophonists achieved an agile staccato, something not easy to accomplish with regularity. In this performance the players were eager to keep a tempo pushed to a nervous edge. The last movement was a ceremonial piece, with a kind of carnival sound. A Fantazia by Orlando Gibbons started the evening with peppery staccatos and tonal swells; nearly jazzy in appearance, it was played as if made for saxophones. Probably it was rare for a keyboard sonata by Domenico Scarlatti to sound rich and sonorous, but this music seemed to enjoy its transposition for saxophones. Its not for life, after all, that these things are done. The Scarlatti's percussiveness was in abeyance, but its harmony blossomed. You can't have everything -- but who wants everything?

Toccata in d minor, Johann Sebastian Bach
Songs, Book III , John Dowland
Sonata 44, Domenico Scarlatti
Concerto in d minor, George Frederic Handel
Fantazia, Orlando Gibbons
The luxuriant sound of baroque saxes

Composition Notes

This arrangement of Toccata in d minor was made for the ASQ by Lowell Shaw. He is much loved by French Hornists (and other Hornists) around the world for his wonderful Horn Quartets.