Labyrinth, Calvin Hampton

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Labyrinth, Calvin Hampton
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Buffalo News, The (Buffalo, NY)
Monday, March 25, 2002
Amherst Saxophone Quartet
Jan Jezioro

The Amherst Saxophone Quartet concluded its Westminster Presbyterian season Friday evening with a flourish, in a program that included both a world premiere and a special guest, soprano Dora Ohrenstein.

An arrangement of the Prelude and Fugue V, from Book II of Bach's "Well-tempered Clavier," helped establish the tone for the first half of the evening. The well-blended sound was evident in the celebratory opening Prelude, while their stately measured playing of the Fugue dissolved the sense of the present.

"The Seven Churches of Easter, Richmond 1984," jointly commissioned from composer Tayloe Harding by the Amherst quartet and two other quartets, was given its world premiere. This substantial, episodic work is based on the composer's impressions and associations of the churches that he visited in the Easter season of his father's death.

"Seven Churches" is an effective composition for the relatively homophonic sound texture of saxophone quartet, composed with enough variety to sustain listener interest for its half-hour-plus length.

The actively contemplative treatment of the medieval hymn in the opening "All Saints" was nicely contrasted by up-tempo "preaching" in "St. John's." A beautifully full, harmonic low range sound was developed in "St. James," while the memory of Robert E. Lee kneeling down to pray with a former slave provided the happy inspiration for "St. Paul's," the most innovatively written movement.

Leila Lustig's "Lament on the Death of Music" is her witty reply to a newspaper article. Soprano Ohrenstein displayed dramatic flair while declaiming the tongue-in-cheek text that worried back, from Stravinsky, to Debussy, to Wagner, to Chopin, to Beethoven, before reversing the loop, with musical fragments from each serving as underpinning.

Ohrenstein answered her final high note in the questioning phrase, "Is music really dead?" with a girlish, little-voiced, "I guess not," quietly proving the composer's point.

The quartet quickly established a restless feeling, punctuated by outbursts, in the instrumental opening Allegro of Calvin Hampton's "The Labyrinth," composed after a poem by Calvin Abreu. The composer makes good use of some counterintuitive effects in the following Andante movement, where Ohrenstein's singing helped illuminate this poem. Her pointed treatment of the text, both a capella and accompanied, always stood out against the instrumental background.

Prelude and Fugue No. 5 in D major from Book II, Johann Sebastian Bach
The Seven Churches of Easter, Richmond 1984 (2002), Tayloe Harding
Lament on the Death of Music, Leila Lustig
Labyrinth, Calvin Hampton