Music for Saxophone
By JORDAN VANHEMERT
Composer Mark Lanz Weiser is one of many who at first had not thought about the saxophone beyond its presence in jazz until their college days. Like many others, Weiser’s life was changed by hearing one transformative voice on the instrumentfor Weiser, this voice was David Stambler, Professor of Saxophone at Penn State University. Weiser currently serves on the faculty of University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music. This album of four breathtaking works for our instrument spans twenty-three years and leaves the listener hoping for many more from Weiser’s unique and emotive compositional voice.
The album begins with Weiser’s Moments Musicaux (2010) for alto saxophone and piano. Moments Musicaux was written for and is performed on this album by David Stambler, featuring Hannah Creviston on the piano. About Moments Musicaux, Weiser writes “The music unfolds in six continuous movements. While each movement has its own individual character, the movements are meant to flow one to the next, creating parts of a larger tapestry.” Individually, each movement does possess its own charm, but together, they create a flow that creates the impression of a singular, continuous movement. In his first contribution to this album, Stambler’s playing shines. He perfectly captures the rhythmic precision of this piece. Stambler’s contrasts in the more lyrical and aggressive parts of this piece are noteworthy. The flutelike timbre of Stambler’s high register in the second movement, “Air”, is particularly captivating. In the third movement, “Scherzo”, the difficult ensemble passages between the saxophone and the piano are executed perfectly. The punctuations of the piano part are a fitting juxtapose to the cascading sixteenth notes in the saxophone part. This movement ends with a brief respite that transitions into the next movement, “Nocturne.” The beauty of “Nocturne” segues into a peaceful movement ,“Interlude”, before the piece’s final movement. The piece ends with a lively “Caprice.” Creviston and Stambler perform this movement and capture its angular linear thread with energy before the piece charmingly wisps away.
The next piece on the album is Song for Margot (2000). Song for Margot was written to celebrate the life of Margot Bos Stambler. Of this piece, Weiser writes, “The piece is a reflection of the joy and beauty that Margot brought to all who knew her.” Song for Margot is performed on this album by the Capitol Quartet. Capitol Quartet consists of four household names in the saxophone community: Christopher Creviston, soprano saxophone; Joseph Lulloff, alto saxophone; David Stambler, tenor saxophone; and Andy Dahlke, baritone saxophone community (note: Henning Schroeder now occupies the baritone saxophone chair). Capitol Quartet performs with the kind of ensemble playing and precision of execution that makes one believe that they are performing together every day, when in actuality, they live across the country from one another. The subtlety of the musical line and the warmth of the sound, created from both the quartet’s tonal blend and Weiser’s voicings, invite the listener to be enveloped in the warmth of this piece.
This piece expertly utilizes all of the best qualities of the saxophone and would be an excellent addition to any burgeoning quartet’s repertoire. Song for Margot is followed by Weiser’s first piece for saxophone, Suite for Alto Saxophone and Piano (1991). Suite for Alto Saxophone and Piano is performed by David Stambler and Jun Okada. In this piece, Weiser draws inspiration from Bernstein, Copland, and Ravel. Indeed, this piece is “light and whimsical”, as Weiser describes it. The playful opening movement seemingly floats along in Okada and Stambler’s interpretation. The clarity and simplicity of the piano voicings of the second movement is breathtakingly. The third movement, “Etude”, is performed by Stambler alone and maintains the piece’s light character even though the title is evocative of a technical exercise. The fourth movement is entitled “Waltz”, and is reminiscent of Copland’s harmonic language. The piece closes with “Finale” and which builds to an intense finish.
The album ends with a strong statement in Weiser’s most recent piece for saxophone, Flash(2014). This piece was written for Christopher Creviston and is performed on this album by Christopher and Hannah Creviston. Flash is based on different interpretations of the word flash, and the titles of each movement (“Blink”, “Sparkle”, “Blaze”, and “Shimmer”) are synonyms. While the first three movements are lively, the last contrasts it. Creviston’s acrobatic technique dazzles with lightness and brilliance, and his shimmering sound is a perfect fit for this piece. The final movement of this piece brings the album to a beautiful and delicate close, showcasing Creviston’s exacting and delicate control of the upper register of the soprano saxophone. The piece evaporates with tranquility, and the album ends on a poignant note.
I would be remiss if I did not give further attention to the brilliant piano playing by Hannah Creviston and Jun Okada. These two collaborative musicians are standouts in our field, and this recording illustrates exactly why. Their playing utilizes the full tapestry of colors available in the piano, and they are both experts at drawing sound out of the piano in a way that perfectly complements the saxophone.
Mark Lanz Weiser is yet another composer who we are fortunate to have writing for the saxophone. His stunning oeuvre contains four works that utilize the instrument’s expressive capabilities perfectly. Weiser has contributed these four works to our repertoire, but one can only hope that Weiser will contribute more works in the years to come.