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review in FanfareMag

Apr 14

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.. . . . .. . From just looking at it, I wasn’t sure about the commercial viability for the Amstel Quartet’s CD Amstel Peijl either, but after the first few minutes of what would become more than a dozen listens, I knew I loved it.

My intuitive notion of a saxophone quartet is that of a rather modern invention, perhaps even a recent fad. The saxophone is a fairly recent instrument, of course, but at 160 years it is young only when compared to instruments like the violin or the recorder. And while it is not generally associated with classical music—Berlioz’s efforts notwithstanding—it has been around long enough for Claude Debussy and Vincent d’Indy to write for it. Moreover, the idea of gathering four saxophones (usually consisting of B soprano and tenor saxophones and E alto and baritone saxophones) for a quartet goes back pretty far too. In French-speaking countries the Belgian invention became a military band staple; elsewhere it was jazz that adopted and introduced the instrument.

Alexander Glazunov heard the saxophone quartet of the French Republican Guards (insert coy French-bashing joke about not winning military battles with saxophones tied around soldiers’ necks here) and composed his op. 109 for it. The repertoire hasn’t seen many additions—certainly not of that quality—since, so to this day, that’s what saxophone quartets are busy playing when they are not occupied transcribing the Goldberg Variations . The other piece included on the Amstel Quartet’s CD originally written for saxophone quartet is Philip Glass’s quartet as culled from his concerto for the same setup. Four movements of inspired same-ishness in smoothly polished perfection—but not as satisfying as the arrangement of Fauré’s Pelléas et Mélisande Suite these four Dutch players commissioned from their pianist-buddy Wijnand van Klaveren, who naturally wrote himself into the piece to great effect. The title of the disc, Amstel Peijl, refers to the traditional Dutch water marker that has become an international standard—presumably as a signal that this is where the quartet sees itself and what they wish to be measured against in the future. If you’re Dutch, I assume with water levels lower is better … and the merits of this stocktaking are such that it will be very difficult for any other group to get below that. It’s a superbly entertaining group and the disc should appeal to any music lover and by no means only those who know that they are interested in the saxophone.

Written by Jens F. Laurson