Capitol Quartet entertains and edifies in Rocky River Concert

The saxophonists who join forces in the Capitol Quartet are capital players. They can negotiate anything on their music stands, weave phrases together with buttery ease and send sounds piercing through the air.

They're also capital cutups. At many moments during their winning concert Monday for the Rocky River Chamber Music Society at West Shore Unitarian Universalist Church, the musicians interacted puckishly with one another and the audience. Tenor saxophonist David Stambler made a droll master of ceremonies.

When they got down to business, the players proved how serious they are about their art. The saxophone may be known best in its guise as jazz champion, but this ensemble makes the convincing case for Adolphe Sax's invention as bona fide concert instrument.

Most of the music the Capitol offered in its last performance of an extended tour likely was new to the Rocky River listeners, who sat rapt while the players were in kaleidoscopic action.

Stambler and colleagues Christopher Creviston (soprano sax), Joseph Lulloff (alto) and Andrew Dahlke (baritone) gave every indication that they savor the distinctive colors of their instruments and the spectrum of hues and moods they explore. They did so at the outset in a movement from Alfred Desenclos' Quatuor that filled the hall with voluptuous sound when the music wasn't promenading merrily along the boulevard.

Nothing on the program had a whiff of the conventional. Mike Crotty's arrangement of "Simple Gifts" isn't simple at all: it mixes jazz riffs with inventive harmonies. "Elysian Bridges," a John Anthony Lennon work written for the Capitol, chatters vivaciously as it depicts the journey from life to the great beyond.

Among the most delicious works was a quartet by the French brothers Faustin and Maurice Jeanjean, whom Stambler likened to the Gilbert and Sullivan of the saxophone world. This particular Jeanjean bonbon is capricious, sweet, elfin and clownish. In the finale, the musicians tried to outdo one another in virtuoso cadenzas.

The group made a sonic feast of Gyorgy Ligeti's Six Bagatelles, originally for piano, and brought dizzying animation to "Fugue Well-Tampered," Stambler's cheeky stew of two Bach fugues and jazz licks.

There was also a world premiere, once removed, Stacy Garrop's "The Flight of Icarus." (The Capitol gave the first performance the previous night at Bowling Green State University.) The two-movement work is a series of piquant and brooding episodes portraying Icarus' tragic voyage and the sorrowful aftermath.

The ensemble gave Garrop's alluring brainstorm a performance of riveting intensity. Nothing could follow but lighter fare, so the players funneled their solo and corporate pizzazz into Stambler's invigorating arrangement of Duke Ellington's "It Don't Mean a Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing" and a whirlwind ride through Rimsky-Korsakov's "Flight of the Bumble Bee."

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— Donald Rosenberg, The Cleveland Plain Dealer On-Line Edition