Adolphe Sax (1814-1894), prolific Belgian inventor of many musical instruments, moved to Paris (with the help of Berlioz) in 1842 to set up his workshop where he improved numerous instruments and invented many saxhorns and saxophones in 1846; today the saxhorn and various saxophones continue to delight and entertain both in jazz and classical music. Last year Vassar College professor Christopher Brellochs offered a jazz concert, so this year on Friday evening, he offered a showcase of classical jazz.
They opened with Recitativo and Abracadabra by Clair Leonard (1901-1963), a former composer who taught at Vassar. Brellochs played alto sax, accompanied by award-winning Allison Brewster Franzetti on piano. Brellochs preface the performance by declaring that this piece has the highest note he has ever played. And yes, there were some extraordinarily high notes that he nailed with lyric precision in a piece that cavorted like a rollercoaster. We were in for a delightful weekend pleasure ride.
Another duet, Solo de Concours, Op. 13 (1860), by Paul Agricole Génin, who taught at the Paris Conservatory, required his sax students to perform this work satisfactorily fir their final exam. This, too, was a cheery roller-coaster of highs and lows that featured more circular repetition than the always forward thrust of Leonard. There was also much humor and part of the test was obviously how well a student caught both the humor and nuanced charm of the work, which Brellochs did in consummate fashion.
Former sax teacher of Brellochs, Paul Cohen, appeared to play the third movement Allegretto from Duo Concertant, Op. 55 by Frenchman J.B. Singelée (1812-1875). It was from France that the first sax player arrived in the US in 1853 to play Santa Claus music. In his recent research into the music of the Gilded Age (1865-1913), Brellochs singled out the Allegretto from this work as a good example of the popular sax music played in Hudson River mansions. This cheerful and civilized piece was full of salon wit where Paul Cohen’s soprano sax flourished. The arrangement was a duo, the two sax instruments being treated as a single entity competing with Franzetti at the piano.
The New Hudson Saxophone Quartet arrived on stage. Saxophone Quartet #2 (1988) is perhaps New York contemporary composer Steve Cohen’s (b.1954) most famous composition. It has the density and finesse of a classical string quartet. The mellifluous opening Andante proposed a unified yet complex musical discussion; the following Scherzo was replete with upper and lower register jokes between Cohen on soprano sax and Tim Ruedeman on baritone sax; the movement sounded like a comic sax traffic jam; the Adagio delivered lyric nuance with great unity, Cohen’s soprano sax soaring with excellent support from Bence Szepesi on alto sax; the concluding Allegro Giocoso centered on Brellochs’ tenor sax taking the lead and the other sax players agreeably following. There was drama, humor, and offbeat lyricism in this sophisticated quartet.
The Allegro con fuoco movement from Heinz Gröschke’s (1914-1996) early work Quintett (1935) was a piano concerto with sax accompaniment. (Heinz was the half-brother of the actor Klaus Kinski.) There was a rhythmic public celebration aspect to the work with progressive dramatic escalation as piano and horns drove on the same highway, yet there was robust lyric bend in the road.
Shadow of a Flame (2007) by Janne Ikonen (b. 1975) provided Franzetti with a keyboard showpiece where she could tinkle those ivories with zestful aplomb. In 5-4-time signature, this work inhabited the recent fusion nether land of fusion jazz. This work neatly summed up thematically Brellochs’ own musical sensibility where he has one foot in each of the two disciplines the sax remains famous for. This was an evening where everyone fell in love with the versatile virtues of the saxophone.