Oasis Quartet

On November 10, 2011, the Oasis Quartet presented a concert in the University Capital Centre Reictal Hall. The hall was filled with many students following a masterclass with the Oasis Quartet for the University of Iowa’s saxophone studio under the direction of Dr. Kenneth Tse. The ensemble provided a varied program of music transcribed and written for saxophone quartet. A welcoming and casual ambiance was created by the members of the ensemble with spoken introductions and a genuine thank you to Dr. Tse for his invitation to perform at the university and work with the students of the saxophone studio.

According to the biography provided in the program, these four gentlemen, Nathan Nabb, James Bunte, Dave Camwell, and James Romain, share a goal of “interpreting dynamic repertoire at the highest level.” This was evident from the first note of the performance. These artists are dedicated to exploring all walks of the standard and transcribed repertoire and this particular program did not disappoint! Also impressive to note that each of these performers enjoy solo artist careers regionally, nationally, and internationally as chamber musicians, orchestral musicians, solo recitalists, and adjudicators.

The program was relatively short, but left nothing to be desired in exploring a multitude of styles and expression. The intonation and cohesion of the quartet was exceptional. Not generally being a fan of the soprano saxophone, I found Mr. Nabb’s tone smooth and melodic throughout the concert, despite an occasional the instrument’s tendency to be shrill in the altissimo range. Perhaps due to balance for the ensemble, I felt Mr. Romain’s baritone saxophone playing to be somewhat reserved. Considering a very similar voicing to a string quartet, I found his sound to be less commanding than normally expected from a cellist. The middle voices provided by alto saxophonist, James Bunte, and tenor saxophonist, Dave Camwell, were rich and sonorous. Overall, the blend and balance of this quartet was exceptional: individual sounds entwined into a block of sound in all the right places and voices came out of the texture in the most subtle and enticing manner.

Concert Repertoire

String Quartet No. 12 in F Major (American), Antonín Dvořák

Dvořák’s penchant for using folk themes is not missed in this transcription of string quartet for saxophone quartet. Throughout each movement there is always a sense of some lilting Irish or Celtic tune, or a spiritual. This piece truly lives up to its subtitled name: American. Although the same kind of interplay between two violins is not quite the same as voiced by a soprano and alto saxophone, the lines blended almost seamlessly throughout the work. Some interesting transcriptional items of note were the use of flutter tonging in the third movement and extended tremolo passages in the fourth movement. Not being familiar with the string quartet version of this work, these extended wind techniques may be an attempt to recreate string techniques such as double stops or plucked strings. Regardless of that fact, the dexterity and abandon with which the quartet performed this work was inspiring.

Pitch Black, Jacob ter Veldhuis

For this selection an iPod was employed and the members of the quartet donned their headphones and ear buds. Throughout the audience there was a collective look to the program notes to reveal what was in store. Jacob TV, as he is affectionately known, is a Dutch Composition Prize winner noted for his exploration into what have been termed “boombox” works. This particular piece is based on an interview with jazz-trumpeter Chet Baker. The work starts with Chet Baker speaking and then in the most fascinating manner his speech becomes the music. Through reiteration of text on a skip track, use of sound bites, the natural fluctuations of his vocal timbre in speech, and non-verbalized vocalizations a melody is created. The quartet wove in and out of being an accompaniment to the spoken text of Mr. Baker to building upon a single word into a riff of big band jazz saxophone section in full swing. Like many, when I see the performers putting on their earphones and see that we might be getting an electronic sampling, I become leery and inwardly groan thinking I am probably going to detest what is about to occur. Here, I was pleasantly surprised. This piece was jazzy, fun, emotionally moving, and I found myself completely rapt. Having never heard of Jacob TV before, I’m interested to learn more about his catalogue of works. A definite success for this ensemble in opening the eyes and ears of musicians and concert-goers alike!

Quatuor, Florent Schmitt

This enchanting piece by the French composer Florent Schmitt provided a real showcase for each member of the quartet. There was a definite neoclassic feel to the piece while still having a playful dabble into the realms of polytonality and atonality. Each voice had its chance to come out of the texture of the ensemble and shine. Particularly beautiful was the trading off from voice to voice in the third movement concluding with the alto leading into the soprano in a soaring melody. This work was very beautiful to hear, but not all that memorable, in no part due to the workings of the quartet members.

Recitation Book, V. Durch Adam’s Fall, David Maslanka

Another new composer to add to my research list, David Maslanka’s work was enthralling. This particular movement opened with a fanfare flare. When I read the title all I could recall was some choral arrangements of this text used during Advent lessons and carols services. However, this interpretation of that religious text was exciting. It was like the fanfare signified God descending into the Garden of Eden to punish Adam. This moved into a chase-like section where I felt I could picture Adam running to try and escape God’s wrath. A beautifully sustained soft tone by the alto saxophone lead into a lament of such agony played beautifully on the soprano saxophone. Adam is repenting and begging for forgiveness. Plaintive sonorities follow allude to Adam’s resolve of the punishment received. Finally the fanfare returns with a menacing quality; which left me wondering if it was God ascending back to the heavens, or was it the procession out of Eden? A programmatic work that left me wanting more! I only hope that the Oasis Quartet records the entire piece in time so I can enjoy the other movements.

For more information about the Oasis Quartet, individual ensemble members, and upcoming performances, please see this link:
http://www.oasisquartet.com

For more detailed program notes for Thursday’s concert, please see this link:
http://performingarts.uiowa.edu/oasis-saxophone-quartet/

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