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Recommended Recordings - Straight Lines - Amstel Quartet

Oct 9

Not too long ago, who would have ever expected the saxophone quartet to become such a vital medium of musical expression for players, as well as composers. It seems that there is a new saxophone quartet being formed every day, and new saxophone quartet music is being created equally fast. This is an amazing rate of growth and interest. These are exciting times for the saxophone quartet medium whose players have a spirit of American pioneers of days gone by, as they push the boundaries farther and farther away.

The Amstel Quartet is typical of this pioneering spirit. After touring with the Dutch National Youth Orchestra in 1997 four saxophonists decided to form a quartet named after the river Amstel in Amsterdam. Their unique sound and thirst for new literature has made them a leader in this genre. They won the Hemke Prize for Chamber Music and were a prize winner at the Gustav Bumcke Competition for saxophone ensembles in Dortmund, Germany. They have performed in the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, Vredenburg in Utrecht, the Sogakudo Hall in Tokyo, the Stadtkirche in Darmstadt, Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg, Belgium and the Czech Republic.

This saxophone quartet distinguishes itself by playing a rather wide variety of repertoire. Suffice it to say, many composers have written for the Amstel Quartet, including master composers as György Ligeti and Arvo Pärt. The Amstel Quartet is also known for its co-productions with artists from different disciplines including mime, modern dance, and film. Their members consists of four excellent saxophonists; Remco Jak, soprano and tenor saxophones; Naomi Sato, alto and soprano saxophones; Bas Apswoude, tenor and alto saxophones and Ties Mellema, baritone saxophone. All of them have studied with the well-known teacher and saxophonist Arno Bornkamp. They have a beautiful group timbre and a clarity of sound that is laudable, including an acute sense of ensemble. This quartet is a superb addition to the world of saxophone ensembles.

The last work in their performance is The Straight Line, by Joep Franssens, which also serves as the source of the title of this CD. It is a moving and fascinating piece with an active background part and melodies that immediately attract your attention with stark simplicity and natural beauty.

This composer has created a pleasurable direction for saxophone quartet literature. The scoring is big and it is difficult to remember that there are only four players. The opener is So Softly, by Ian Wilson. This piece opens mysteriously setting up a haunting line. Immediately the Quartet's beautiful sound is heard while the melody goes to an octave unison that is flawless and accompanied by musical fluttering with the remaining two saxophones. Simply stated, this composition is beautiful writing for the saxophone quartet. The next selection is Syrinx/Soyons plus vite, by Daan Manneke. This too tells its own story, opening and closing with the soprano solo, but is interrupted by the quartet. Alaric I or II is next and was composed by Gavin Bryars. This begins with some extremely consonant use of multiphonics. This control this quartet exhibits is of the first order. It is a dramatic sound incorporated into a film score.

The second to last selection is Lamentatio, by Erkki-Sven Tüür. This is again a superb addition to the quartet repertoire. Lush scoring and heart tugging melodic lines all make for a more than enjoyable listening experience. The Amstel Quartet gets a big round of applause here for a CD that should be listened to many times to appreciate the music and their performance. Everything about this CD is superb.