chatham saxophone quartet
smock alley theatre, dublin
Variety, it is said, is the spice of life and certainly that condiment is sprinkled freely across the Chatham Saxophone Quartet's programme at the Boys' School in Smock Alley Theatre.
Setting out on a six-venue tour for Music Network, the group's eclectic choice covers Irish and American music as well as having a strong Continental European input.
Showing exceptional rapport, the Quartet was founded in 2008 and its playing not only indicates assured technical brilliance but also undeniable musicianship.
The evening opens with Bach's Little Fugue in G minor arranged by Chatham's leader Daniel Dunne. Nimble in tracing Bach's intricate lines, the Quartet's playing also shows its musicians remarkable breath control.
The other mainstream European items include Webern's 1905 Langsamer Satz. Originally for strings, and despite Chatham's committed performance, the music sounds, pardoning the pun, overblown on the wind instruments.
On the other hand, Olivier Messiaen's vocal O Sacrum Convivium retains its ecstatic fervour in its saxophone transcription.
Two pieces by Dutch composer Jacob TV (ter Veldhuis to the uninitiated), 'Pitch Black' and 'Heartbreakers', require pre-recorded sound and visuals, as one centres on an interview with jazz trumpeter Chet Baker and the other has repeated agonised snippets from television chat shows.
I find both quite irritating. The Baker tape is too loud while the over-extended 'Heartbreakers' video completely sidetracks one's attention from Chatham's considerable virtuosic endeavours.
The purely American ingredients areBob Mintzer's 'Quartet No 1' and Steve Reich's 'New York Counterpoint'. The Mintzer has an expressive slow movement with a languid alto cadenza framed by extrovert instrumental exuberance in its outer sections.
The constant minimalist repetitions of Reich's musical threads bring unfailingly incisive execution through Chatham's flamboyant interpretation.
The Irish repertoire also makes decisive contributions to the programme's content through the Finale from Ian Wilson's 'Heaven lay close' and the world première of Brian Byrne's 'Quartet No 1'.
The Wilson has exhilarating swiftness, while the Byrne, with its beautifully shaped phrases, has sensitive solos in a profound pastorale to contrast its jazzy dancing elements elsewhere. Byrne's score fits Chatham's closely-knit ensemble like the proverbial glove.