Westminster Church: Amherst Saxophone Quartet

Works reviewed: 
Domine, exaudi orationem meam, Josquin Desprez
Ave Maria, Josquin Desprez
Missa Pange lingua, Josquin Desprez
Suite Francaise (1935), Francis Poulenc
Vue sur les Jardins Interdits (1973), Henri Pousseur
Songs, Book III , John Dowland
Harfleur Song, Paul Harvey
Buffalo News, The
Buffalo, NY
Dec 3 2001
By: 
Jan Jezioro

The Amherst Saxophone Quartet performed numbers from its recently released CD during a show Friday in Westminster Presbyterian Church.

Can vocal music, written in the 15th century be successfully played on an instrument invented in the 19th century by a group of musicians at the beginning of the 21st century? The answer is, most emphatically, "yes," when that music is performed by the Amherst Saxophone Quartet. The ASQ offered a concert Friday evening in Westminster Presbyterian Church celebrating the release of its new CD "Renaissance Masterworks of Josquin Desprez."

The performance featured a generous selection of numbers from the CD, almost all of which were beautifully transcribed for saxophone quartet by the ASQ's soprano player Susan Fancher. The ASQ nicely captured the tempered sadness of the melancholy lament on baritone Harry Fackelman's version of the motet "Absalon fili mi."

The very nature of the well-blended sound of a saxophone quartet, which occasionally proves an obstacle when a composer is looking for sound variety, proved to be a strong point in these versions of music written for a group of equal voices, with a homogenous tone color.

From the smooth, creamy lines of the opening "Domine," through the mellifluous sound that the players brought to the "Ave Maria," the selections by Desprez had a wonderfully soothing effect. The two sections of the "Misse Pange lingua" were especially memorable, from the euphonious sounding "Gloria" to the evening's final piece, the "Sanctus," highlighted by duets for soprano and alto, and tenor and baritone.

The ASQ has always demonstrated the ability to build a strong program, and this was no exception. Poulenc composed his "Suite Francaise" using dance tunes by French Renaissance master Claude Gervaise, transforming them with his unique wit and charm. This very modern "old" music was tossed off with the ASQ's trademark clean, precise articulation, especially apparent in the breakneck speed of the "Petite Marche."

Henri Pousseur's 1973 "Vue sur les Jardins Interdits" was offered as a "palate cleanser," but even this work's restless outer sections surrounded a peaceful center that demonstrated a distinct affinity with the rest of evening's program.

A delightful set of songs by John Dowland, transcribed by tenor Stephen Rosenthal, was followed by "The Harfleur Song" (1978), by English composer Paul Harvey, where the full sound of the quick tempo dance-like piece, was played as Renaissance music with a twist.

Westminster Church: Amherst Saxophone Quartet