Prism Saxophone Quartet
Symphony presents Bolcom piece with finess
Des Moines Register, October 15, 2001, Robert C. Fuller
The Des Moines Symphony, under the direction of Joseph Giunta, treated its audience to two radically different but both wonderfully elegant works for soloists and orchestra Saturday evening at the Civic Center.
The first was the impressive Concerto Grosso for Saxophone Quartet and Orchestra by the American composer William Bolcom, performed by the PRISM Quartet for whom the piece was written.Bolcom’s eclectic style, which combines everything from jazz and bebop to avant garde techniques, is held together by an impeccable ear and exuberant personality. It is full of wit, vitality and charm.The Concerto Grosso, which first premiered in 2000, is a work packed with verve and kinetic energy yet also contains sounds of delicacy and nuance.
Treating the saxophones basically as one unit rather than as four soloists, the musical material is frequently different from and contrasted to that of the orchestra, creating an upbeat modernization of Baroque style techniques of com-position.It is a wonderful and joyous piece, always sounding with a ring of familiarity but full of surprises at every turn.
The quartet, consisting of Matthew Levy, Timothy Ries, Taimur Sullivan and Michael Whitcombe who performed on the soprano, alto tenor and baritone saxophone, respectively, played with immense agility and finesse. The members produced a suave and integrated tone coupled with a depth of understanding of a work that was exuberant and exciting to experience.
The other piece on the program for soloist and orchestra was the ephemeral “Danse Sacree et Danse Profane” (“Sacred and Profane Dances”) for harp and strings by Claude Debussy. This work, full of gossamer and shimmering timbres, is small but with an abundance of musical intelligence. It was ably executed by the symphony’s harpist, Mary Foss, who combined a fine technique with a musical ear to create a performance of beauty.
Giunta’s restraint on the strings, which could easily overpower the subtle tones of the harp, was perhaps a bit too much – the strings could have sounded slightly more robust, especially in the second, less remote section of the dances.
The concert ended with a well-conceived and well-executed performance of Antonin Dvorak’s sparkling and lyrical Symphony No. 5 in F Major, Op. 24. Overshadowed by and thus less well known than the deservedly famous last three symphonies by this composer, this work, however, is of great worth. Brimming with gorgeous melodies and held together by sensitive craftsmanship, it was a pleasure to hear.
The program began with Robert Russell Bennett’s “Suite of Old American Dances,” a slick commercial-sounding piece of little merit that served merely as a filler and trivialized what otherwise was a concert of intelligent programming.