For over twenty years, the Capitol saxophone quartet has been a highly skilled ensemble with a tight but warm sound and some incredible ensemble technique. Each of these guys is a highly skilled performer; among the best saxophone players in the world, truthfully. As a group, the Capitol Quartet has advocated actively for music education in the schools as well as showcasing inventive and engaging new repertoire for the saxophone quartet.
Here is another outstanding example: Each piece in this collection, “Balance”, is a wonderful piece of music and by some of today’s best composers with a real knack for writing for winds.
The opening The Mechanics: Six from the Shop Floor by Carter Pann is a six- movement work written especially for the present performers and carries the wonderfully eccentric imagery of the members of the quartet as if they were mechanics working in the composer’s brother’s taxi and auto shop. So each movement depicts in a very colorful way an aspect of auto mechanics and/or the ‘grease monkey’ lifestyle. Pann effectively uses different styles of music to convey the car parts or mood he is trying to depict. (So we have a minimal type work representing the ‘Belt’ or the bari sax carrying the main work dished off to the others back and forth in ‘Flywheel’) The whole effect is quite entertaining to the extent that you don’t really need to know the imagery to enjoy this clever work! What I have heard of Carter Pann’s music I really enjoy and he does write very well for winds and small ensembles. Pann is on the faculty of the University of Colorado in Boulder.
John Anthony Lennon is another very talented composer who is quite gifted with writing in this genre. His Elysian Bridges is intended to evoke the mood of the peaceful, serene afterlife in a landscape envisioned by the ancient Greeks. The work has roots in the post-classical use of American pop music and does make much use of some twists and turns melodically and harmonically, as if one were driving over a bridge. This is a very entertaining work whose ‘twists and turns’ do not make it anything than fun to listen to. Lennon is a California native and trained at the University of Michigan, among others.
I have admired the music of Chicagoan Stacy Garrop for some time as well as her music has been played the Capitol Quartet and others on several occasions. She presently teaches at Roosevelt University, Chicago in the College of Performing Arts. Her Flight of Icarus was also written specifically for the Capitol Quartet. The theme or symbolism is exactly that of the Greek legend of Daedalus, the engineer seeking to escape a Minotaur by attaching wings of wax and feathers for himself and his only son, Icarus. So the story – and the two movements – goes; Icarus does not heed his father’s warning about flying too close to the sun, nor too close to the water. Icarus crashes into the sea and drowns leaving Daedalus to grieve. This is a very moving and captivating work that does evoke this tragic tale quite well and also gives us some really fine moments for the saxophonists.
I admit, I am not nearly as familiar with the work of Frenchman Alfred Desenclos. He is also not a contemporary of the three American composers herein, having died in 1971. His Quatour is a very fine three-movement work originally written in 1964 for the Marcel Mule Quartet and is actually one of the better known ‘earlier’ saxophone quartets with shades of Ravel and Gershwin throughout. This is a very good work that showcases each player quite well. For my tastes, however, I still preferred the newer works here; especially those by Pann and Garrop.
Saxophonists really need to hear this terrific ensemble for some of the best playing and musicianship you will ever hear. Additionally, these are all really fine works by some of today’s most talented ‘emerging’ composers. Highly recommended!
—Daniel Coombs, Audiophile Audition, October 2015