TWO WORLD premieres were featured in Thursday evening's concert by the Amherst Saxophone Quartet, The program, "American Variations," was in Slee Hall, UB North Campus, and will be repeated at 7:30 p.m. next Friday in Westminster Presbyterian Church.
There was enough music built on repetitive, orderly devices such as canon, phase shifting and retrograde that the program assumed an almost neo-baroque dominant tone.
The world premiere of David Sipos' "Scalindrome" was of major interest. Like a literary palindrome, it is exactly the same played forward or backward. That may sound gimmicky, but Sipos' mirror image has musical interest, too. A baritone solo in baroque-like figurations introduced the others, generating a hauntingly distant, almost middle eastern effect. Down the line the music was replete with ornamental scalar runs in canonic presentation and bold, wide interval leaps. It was so memorable that one waited eagerly for the various elements' return in retrograde (played backwards). The incessant pulse and rhythmic vitality were infectious. Fittingly, the composer changed the title at the last minute to a palindrome, "Evade Dave."
The other premiere was Charles Griffin's "Panta Rei," a pulsing, fast, free-flowing piece of tight, dense textures and few open spaces, save for an island of rather uneasy repose in the middle.
Variation in texture seemed a program objective. Elliott Carter's "Canonic Suite for Four Alto Saxophones" fit that criterion, three movements, each with abrupt endings, all strictly canonical but of different character: mechanical, dreamy and strongly fugal.
Another highlight was Jerome Moross' "Sonata for Piano Duet and Quartet," transcribed for saxes by Russ Carere. Stephen and Frieda Manes were the excellent piano duo in this very appealing work, whose American character was projected with a happy wedding of theme development with accompanying rhythmic supporting lines. The three movements were percolating, wistful and quasi-bluesy and a jaunty "boulevardier" theme sauntered through the Finale.
In Steve Reich's "Clapping Music," the musicians clapped the same rhythmic pattern then continually shifted it farther out of phase until it came full circle and back into phase. It's fiendishly difficult, must be torture to practice, but at intermission most people quizzed didn't care to hear it again. Tayloe Harding's Quartet is conventionally scored and is acrid in its harmonic bite, full of introspective groping, dissonant continuo lines, and choppy, narrow intervalled patterns. It's admirably consistent in character even if not entirely comfortable to the ear.