Donald Sinta Quartet
By Nicholas May
The Donald Sinta Quartet has garnered a great amount of well-earned attention over the past decade. Winning numerous competitions, they have presented programs internationally while drawing inspiration and paying homage to the great saxophone pedagogue: Donald Sinta. Collider is the quartet’s debut album and is labeled under the Concert Artist Guild.
Collider begins with Rush by David Kechley. Instantly the listener will be captivated by the frenzy of unison angular, chromatic lines. This piece settles into a groove while all the members of DSQ maintain superb control of their respective instruments – sonically and technically. The pseudo chorale in the middle is quite mysterious and ominous, but beautiful at the same time. It is juxtaposed with pyrotechnics. Rush sets up the remainder of the album – informing the listener they are in for an exciting ride!
The second piece needs no introduction – György Ligeti’s Six Bagatelles is frequently performed with woodwind quintets and has become a standard in the saxophone quartet canon. I must admit, this may be the best recording of this piece I have heard to date. The intonation in the soprano saxophone’s altissimo is exceptional. Further, DSQ as a whole presents a highly technical and emotional work in an accessible manner. The listeners are constantly guided, never left on their own, throughout this musical journey. The third movement, Cantabile, molto legato, stands out in this multi-movement work. All of the performers are especially aware of the melodic nature of this song like movement; while maintaining a perfect balance with an underlying ostinato. This was an enjoyable rendition of this classic piece! Bulgarity by Annika Socolosky is a Bulgarian dance-inspired work; written for the DSQ. It is short, charming, and full of energy! This modal piece was a joy to listen to.
Again, the DSQ presents a modern standard in the saxophone quartet repertoire – Tango Virtuoso by Thierry Escaich. I was already fond of this composition, but the DSQ reminded me how delightful this tango is. As implied by its title - not only is this a soulful, lustrous, tango; it is a tour de force for all members of the quartet. This is a charming interpretation, full of subtle inflections and personal flair from each saxophonist. This (mostly) tonal piece is excellently performed; the balance and blend are well done in this track. To be fair, the quartet’s blend and balance are always on par, but the blend between melody and accompaniment lines is perfect.
Kristin Kuster’s Red Pine was the perfect palate cleanser of this CD. This reflective piece is unhurried and ponderous. Soft, and reminiscent of the composer’s walk through a Canadian forest. While restraint and control of the saxophone are paramount for a piece of this nature, no pun intended, the DSQ is obliviously not lacking. However, in some of the more intimate moments, I would have wished for a shade more vibrato to warm up the piece. Instead of a late fall walk through the forest, which is beautiful, I would have liked to metaphorically explore all of the potential seasons in said forest. Nonetheless, it is ethereal and beautiful.
Babel by Joseph Bozich is more esoteric and abstract when compared to the preceding track. The listener is reminded of the DSQ’s virtuosic capabilities; this time emulating the classic Biblical story of the Tower of Babel. For me, the quartet does an excellent job separating, playing independently, to reflect the cacophony in this parable. Before reading the liner notes and adding context to this piece, one may find it a bit too aleatoric. However, once the contextual information has been digested, this is an intriguing piece and is captivating.
Phantomsby Natalie Moller is a pseudo programmatic work about the dark and paranormal. The DSQ explores the wide gamut of colors and timbres that the saxophone is capable of. The tenor saxophone solo in the middle was evocative. This piece ends in an outburst from the quartet, culminating in an absolutely perfectly tuned open intervallic chord.
The Elegy by Gregory Wannamaker is particularly moving. This piece originated from his alto saxophone and clarinet duo. In memorandum to any loved one, this definitely is full of intense emotions. This piece is reminiscent of Medieval Renaissance writing; full of quartal and quintal writing. The DSQ does a great job in tuning these perfect intervals while maintaining an emotional pull.
When I was listening through this CD for the first time, the following track made me jump. While the Elegy is subtle, reflective, and calm; Andy Akiho’sAmalgamationis anything but! It starts with what sounds like boom whackers (pre-recorded percussion) and transforms into a pseudo-dub-step groove. Yes, I said that. This is very engaging to listen to, especially the interplay between all of the different rhythmic entities. The rhythmic precision is consummate. This was a treat to listen to. The hemiolic transformation near the end was excellent.
Roger Zare’s LHC is inspired by CERN’s Large Hadron Collider; the world’s most powerful particle collider. This is an expansive piece for the saxophone quartet. The DSQ again presents the wide gamut of sounds capable on the saxophone, including key clicks. The DSQ translates this work from a scientific medium to art excellently, giving the listener a canvas to imagine the intangible. The dynamic control and variety, technical facility, and programmatically presented by the DSQ in this four-movement piece is exceptional. Collider concludes with another piece by Robert Zare: Z(4430). This physics influenced encore piece was written for the DSQ and is a final flourish demonstrating the vast capabilities of the quartet.
Collider was recorded between 2015 and 2016 at Solid Sound Recording in Ann Arbor, Michigan. For a studio recording, this is exceptional. Typically I prefer more natural recording environments, concert halls, etc., but the producers did a great job in making sure this fine recording did not sound too sterile – a quality too many classical studio recordings unfortunately share.
The DSQ has established themselves as a prominent American saxophone quartet, with the limits of their capability almost limitless. The ensemble, intonation, and technique in this recording are beyond question. They provide a diverse, challenging, and yet enjoyable program as displayed on Collider. Kudos to the Donald Sinta Quartet on their debut recording; I cannot wait for their next release!