Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Concert Review

Benedictine College Faculty Recital

Dr. Christopher Greco, Saxophone

Guest Artists
Bryan Pezzone, Piano
Krystal Heib, flute

The concert on the evening of the twenty-seventh of September was a glorious affair between a saxophone, a piano, and a flute. Dr. Christopher Greco, saxophonist, was joined on the piano by his close friend Bryan Pezzone, and a former student, Krystal Heib with her flute. Throughout the concert, images and text was displayed on the drop-down screen above the stage to offer visual and contextual aids for the listeners.

Dr. Greco and Mr. Pezzone opened the evening with the Sonata VI by J.S. Bach, originally for flute and transcribed for saxophone by Marcel Mule. In the opening “Adagio” the saxophone exhibited a sweet, careful articulation and expression which was slightly undermined by a gravely undertone. It sounded at times as though there was something mechanically wrong with the saxophone, but this did not prevent Dr. Greco from displaying for his listeners how gently, how elegantly he could rise and fall in dynamic level and how nimbly he could dance through Baroque trills. The “Allegro” seemed to have some discrepancies between the piano and the saxophone at first, but they quickly settled into a better synchronization. The dynamics were well pronounced and the runs smoothly executed with impressive tonguing and sensitive rubato. The third movement, “Siciliano”, made me smile with it's more romantic and creative harmonic structure, but the last movement, “Allegro Assai”, was the highlight of the sonata for me. The graceful swells and dips reminded me of a swallow in flight, an image reinforced by the lighthearted and playful melody which was created by frequent use of appogiaturas and anticipations.

In the second work, Dr. Greco and Mr. Pezzone were joined by Krystal Heib to perform Epitaphe de Jean Harlow op. 164 by Charles Koechlin. At the beginning, the flute sounded slightly out of tune, and in this listeners opinion, the saxophone could have held a more pronounced role in the balance of the trio. Nonetheless, there was excellent interplay between the voices; sensitive phrasing and articulation which was accented by tight harmonic structure in disjunct lines. It was well performed overall, though the last note did not seem to be sustained in tune, the flute dropping slightly in pitch.

Next came the Concert a'3 pour Fronsac by Henri Sauget. The entire cycle seemed very surreal, like someone painting scenes from nature, which was very a very appropriate given the naturalistic inspirations for the movements. “Feuillages” (foliages) contained a very expressive melody conveyed through contrapuntal lines which were very jumpy and light on their feet. The glory of “Ramages” (foliage patterns) was the contrast between the flute and saxophone, like the small and deep veins which are etched into the surface of every leaf. Together they created an interlocking band of color, a web of spontaneous dialogue. The piano swelled in a solo before a strong conjunction of all three voices which led nicely into the third movement, “Ombrage” (shades). This last selection in the cycle contained a sweet, simple duet between piano and flute, with periods of solo lines for the sax. This created a beautiful sense of the border between light and shadow, the brightness of the sun and the deep coolness of the shade. Compared to the other two movements it swelled more, was deeper and more surreal.

At this point there was a brief interlude before the trio reconvened for Les Treteaux Trio by Pierre Max Dubois, which was by far the most quirky of the pieces. “Prologue en Fanfare” was a humerus, sarcastic work which featured an almost ironic use of chromaticism. The “Romantic” was paired visually with a work by Mucha, which reinforced the avant garde impression of the cycle. Simple, clear lines outlined descending sequences which were played with great sensitivity and support. The “Vlase Vulgaire” (vulgar waltz) could not have been more aptly named with the feeling of a London bar tune. There was excellent dynamic expression, and the short, highly accented articulation in one voice nicely contrasted the smooth lines of the other.

For the last cycle, Dr. Greco once again took the spotlight in the Fuzzy Bird Sonata by Takashi Yoshimatsu, a contemporary composer from Japan. The program notes describe this cycle as expressing the spirit of the bird through a mixture of oriental folk, jazz, and bird song as well as a tonal background, a goal which this piece pulled off quite well. “Run, bird” contained many quick trills and a jazzy walking baseline. There were bent notes and short “pecking” sections which made Dr. Greco's children in the front row giggle. “Sing, bird” expressed the high, sweet notes of a singing bird, swelling and dipping gracefully. There was quite a heavy influence of traditional Japanese instrumentation which the composer employed in the saxophone line and which lent itself beautifully to pandiatonicism. The concluding work “Fly, bird” was an effortless and playful flight through the registers of the saxophone and on the piano through the use of quick and nimble runs, bending and leaping like a sparrow in flight. Once again, the influence of Japanese instruments was highly obvious.

Overall it was an excellent display of grace, agility and musicianship by all three performers. They had excellent performing chemistry and the creative visual displays added greatly to the listening experience.

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