Suite Francaise (1935), Francis Poulenc

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Suite Francaise (1935), Francis Poulenc
Year of Composition: 1935    
Jonas Forssell
Bransle de Bourgogne
Petite Marche Militaire
Bransle de Champagne


Buffalo News, The (Buffalo, NY)
Monday, December 3, 2001
Westminster Church: Amherst Saxophone Quartet
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.

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
Westminster Church: Amherst Saxophone Quartet
The Buffalo News (Buffalo, NY)
Friday, October 29, 1999
ASQ's 'Renaissance Sax' is one for the ages
Herman Trotter

For sheer, unadulterated beauty, this concert must rank as one of the most memorable in the Amherst Saxophone Quartet's 22 years of public life. The program's title is "Renaissance Sax," chosen because all the music is either from, or related in some way to, that period (approximately 1400-1600 A.D.) in musical history.

Seven transcriptions of music by Josquin Desprez by the ensemble's soprano Susan Fancher and baritone Harry Fackelman must be considered its centerpiece. Desprez (c. 1440-1521) is a Flemish composer considered the greatest of the Renaissance. According to Nicolas Slonimsky, he achieved a complete union between word and tone, creating expressive and beautiful art forms displaying the beauty of both Netherlandish counterpoint and Italian homophony.

With an impeccable sense of tonal balance, the ASQ displayed all these characteristics supremely well, even without the crutch of words to lean against. The opening declamatory "L'homme arme," played while standing, was followed by "Absolon fili mi," with its firmly undergirding baritone support and haunting sense of repeated descending lines. The faster moving "De profundis clamavi" followed, with its great clarity and easily followed polyphonic lines turning in on themselves. It all seemed the kind of beauty that made one wonder, for the moment at least, why anyone felt the need to go beyond that.

But there were four more Josquin works to go, including some cat-and-mouse counterpoint in "Salve Regina" and an intriguing alto-baritone duo in the middle of the solidly constructed "O bone et dulcissime Jesu."

But the crown may have been two sections from the "Missa Pange Lingua." In the extremely sonorous Gloria there was a fascinating interplay between upper and lower reeds and, saving the best for last, in the rather lengthy Sanctus the instruments engaged canonic duos, first by soprano and alto, then later baritone and tenor, all holding the attention with a riveting intensity. If you can't get to the repeat concert, take heart. This and more Desprez will be recorded by the ASQ for release next year.

In other works, there was "The Harfleur Song" by Paul Harvey, richly sonorous with a lot of challenges and responses like a spirited conversation, and seven brief, delightful John Dowland songs. Henri Pousseur's 1973 "Vue sur les Jardins interdits," the best work I've heard by this composer, was full of easy but real dissonances, a slowly measured piece with references to old styles buried within. The exquisite little "Suite Francaise" by Poulenc had many treasures like the prayerful "Pavane" in autumn browns and golds.

L'homme arme, Josquin Desprez
Absalon Fili Mi, Josquin Desprez
De Profundis Clamavi, Josquin Desprez
Salve Regina, Josquin Desprez
O bone et dulcissime Jesu, Josquin Desprez
Missa Pange lingua, Josquin Desprez
Harfleur Song, Paul Harvey
Vue sur les Jardins Interdits (1973), Henri Pousseur
Suite Francaise (1935), Francis Poulenc
ASQ's 'Renaissance Sax' is one for the ages

Composer Biography

1899 — 1962

FRANCIS POULENC (1899-1962) was one of the most multi-faceted and most loved members of Les Six, the French composer group of the 1920's.

Composition Notes

In 1935, Poulenc composed the music to Edouard Bourdet's play La Reine Margot, about Margot de Valois, wife of the man who in 1594 was crowned King Henri IV of France. To create the correct period ambience, Poulenc turned to a collection of dances by Claude Gervaise, a composer and violinist of Margot's time. Poulenc orchestrated and reworked these dances for a mixed wind ensemble with percussion and harpsichord in such a personal way that they took on the composer's own unmistakable character. Noted Swedish composer Jonas Forssell (b. 1957) arranged Suite Francaise for saxophone quartet in 1991.


Buffalo News, The
Sound thinking

Never accuse the Amherst Saxophone Quartet of not knowing when to take a winner and run with it. In October 1999, its program called Renaissance Sax featured seven transcriptions of works by the Flemish composer josquin Desprez. The concert was so rapturously received, by public and press alike, it is repeating it, almost verbatim. at 7:30 p.rn. today in Westminster Presbyterian Church.

Not only that, the quartet has taken those seven Desprez nuggets, added four more, and has produced a new CD called "Renaissance Masterworks of Josquin Desprez" which it will unveil at this evening's concert.

In addition to the Desprez selections, the concert includes four other repeats from 1999, all with some direct or oblique Renaissance reference: Poulenc's "Suite Francaise," selections by John Dowland, Pousseur's 1973 "Vue sur les jardins Interdits" and Paul Harvey's 1978 "The Harfleur Song." Tickets are $10 adult or $5 student/senior. Call 839-9716.

At 8 p.m. Saturday, the quartet will be guests of Buffalo Contemporary Dance at a concert in the Flickinger Performing Arts Center, Nichols School, 1250 Amherst St. Tickets are $15 adult, $10 student/senior. Call 633-5697
—Herman Trotter

ASQ, Sound thinking