Quartet dispels saxophone stereotype

The saxophone, known for its jazz riffs and sultry airs, wooed a Geneseo audience with its classical side last Saturday night thanks to the sophisticated stylings of The Erie Saxophone Quartet.

Formed in 2006 at SUNY Fredonia, the Quartet aims to "promote the saxophone … in a classical setting," according to Jake Swanson, the group's soprano saxophonist. He, along with Sarah Marchitelli, Nick Pelton and Melissa Widzinski - alto, tenor and baritone saxophonists, respectively - does just that: impresses listeners with a flair and range unexpected of four versions of the same instrument.

For those still apprehensive about a whole concert of saxophone music, any hesitation is sure to be lost listening to the Quartet's intricate repertoire.

Despite not being originally written for saxophone, the Quartet's opening performance of Johann Sebastian Bach's "Fuga XVII" from Das Wohltempierte Kalvier was so fluidly and skillfully played that no one would question the instrument's place in the work. It served as a lively, well-balanced beginning.

After the upbeat Bach piece, the Quartet transitioned into "Canzona Varieé," a song by Alexander Glazunov made up of a series of variations that, while sometimes subtle and other times played out sharply and unabashedly, provided an enriching sound that lingered in the audience's ears.

The contented feelings left over from Glazunov's work, however, were dashed to pieces as the Quartet navigated Zdenek Lukás's "Rondo." With a shocking dissonance that contrasted low-sung echoes, the piece was filled with the composer's frustrations living under Soviet suppression throughout the 20th century. Though harsh and biting, the Quartet captured the piece's unexpected beauty.

The night ended on a (metaphorical) high note with Philip Glass's "Concerto for Saxophone Quartet." Though a concerto is normally played with an orchestra, the Quartet once again broke the mold, managing to embody the deep, textured sounds of an entire ensemble. At times fast and exciting and at others lilting and lovely, the Quartet closed its show with a little something for everyone.

In less than an hour, the Erie Saxophone Quartet provided a complex array of sounds, affirming that the saxophone has a place outside of jazz and blues, and surprisingly, it's a very good place indeed.