Adolph Sax's 'phone' recalled

Works reviewed: 
Premiere Quatuor pour Saxophones, Op. 53 (1857), Jean Baptiste Singelee
Sax Appeal (1990), David Stock
Saxophone Quartet No. 1, Eddie Sauter
Pieces pour Quatuor de Saxophones, Jean Pierre Beugniot
Blue Monk, Thelonius Monk
Buffalo News
Buffalo, NY
Jan 14 1991
Herman Trotter

Amherst quartet shows contrast in old, new works

About a century and a half ago Adolph Sax's saxophone first warbled a tune and won a silver medal at the Paris Exposition.

The Amherst Saxophone Quartet took note of this historical fact in Sunday's concert,

and by way of honoring the saxophone and its inventor they programmed the oldest known work for four saxes, Belgian composer Jean Baptiste Singelee's 1857 First Quartet, Op. 53, and one of the newest, David Stock's 1990 "Sax Appeal."

These works were not played consecutively, but it was still easy, in the ASQ's excellent performances, to hear the vast broadening in tonal, harmonic and especially textural vocabulary which the saxophone quartet as a genre has undergone during that time.

Although the five-movement Singelee opus had the requisite contrasts in tempo, its sonorities were predominantly smooth and silky, its lines liquid and free flowing, with great attention paid by the composer to proper voice leading.

The music, particularly the three slower movements, had a feeling of academic correctness guided by an inventive mind. Singelee's individuality seemed to emerge mostly in the two fast movements, in which loose-limbed rhythms and the use of staccato phrasing was prominent.

Stock, who is director of the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble and a member of the Duquesne University faculty, wrote "Sax Appeal" for the ASQ. It's an eclectic piece which nonetheless bears the composer's individual stamp of easy expressiveness and wit within the context of an obviously serious compositional essay.

The greatly enlarged vocabulary was clearly audible from the outset, with its eccentric, nervous pulsing. Also discerned were some extraordinarily wide pitch ranges at the seams, coruscating runs of great difficulty and a satisfying sense of form. It concluded with a sudden retreat to pianissimo.

The second movement, called Blues, evoked the sonority of 1940s swing bands' reed sections, but with progressively more intricate rhythms, much use of silence as a structural element, and tiered or layered entrances. It connected directly to the Sarabande.

Tonally low lying at first, this intriguing movement edged progressively higher ,after each appearance of a chordal refrain or other linking passage, then moved through a series of sequential entrances, the stateliness of the sarabande dance form preserved throughout.

The last movement revealed wide timbral contrasts, a lot of cat-and-mouse chasing in frantic, scurrying motion, and at one point the novel sound of one of the reeds overblown just enough to simulate a bulbous, woody timbre like an amplified English horn.

This was the work's third performance, and the ASQ has mastered it. It's an exciting addition to sax literature.

The program concluded with the Saxophone Quartet No. I by Eddie Sauter, the famed big band arranger and partner in the Sauter-Finegan Orchestra. His quartet, however, sounded to these ears like a brief homage to Stravinsky's "The Rite of Spring," from the upper register baritone solo which invoked Stravinsky's opening bassoon solo, right on through many of its other motivic and rhythmic devices. It's a very interesting and probing piece.

Earlier, Jean Pierre Beugniot's "Pieces for Saxophone Quartet" also made a strong case for itself. The four sections were character ized by accessible atonality and movements featuring brief motivic elements and rapid noodling over a howling baritone ostinato, a martial fantasy, a smooth and progressively more tonal Andante movement, and a scampering tour de force as a Finale.

The audience was rewarded with yet another superb performance as an encore, Thelonius Monk's "Blue Monk." It was an easy swinging blues featuring an attractive looping soprano solo over a baritone walking bass.

Adolph Sax's 'phone' recalled