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PRISM Quartet: Paradigm Lost

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PRISM Quartet: Paradigm Lost
Photograph by Jacqueline Hanna
Paradigm Lost Lee Hyla (1952-2014); Fearful Symmetries John Adams (b. 1947), Timothy McAllister arr.; Compass W, N, S, E)David Rakowski (b. 1958); Prism (Memo 6b) Bernard Rands (b. 1934); Not Alone (Chen Yi (b. 1953); Squeeze Augusta Read Thomas (b. 1964) – PRISM Quartet – Timothy McAllister ss, Zachary Shemon as, Matthew Levy ts, Taimur Sullivan bs and ss (9)

The mighty PRISM Quartet follows a sparsely populated musical landscape that was descended from Aldophe Sax’s Paris Conservatoire of 1857 and Marcel Mule’s seminal quartet of 1942 that grew out of it. Although many have attempted to establish a chamber group made up of what might seem – at least in classical music circles – a somewhat lugubrious instrument, true success has been elusive. The Fairer Sax, an all-female British saxophone group, may have been endearing for a while, but it was only through the programmatic forays of the Colorado Sax Quartet, the ongoing experimentation of the World Saxophone Quartet and Rova Saxophone Quartet that any serious canon of chamber music for saxophone groups has been established.

The PRISM Quartet have combined edgy experimentation with the dense parallel harmonies of contemporary through-composed literature, which like the World Saxophone Quartet, the Colorado and the Rova, has steadfastly ducked any kind of competition in antiphony with the brass. On Paradigm Lost, named after a unique work written by the late Lee Hyla, the PRISM have taken the earthy tone of the saxophone and glorified it by lending enormous eloquence and energy and timbres embracing the multitudinous sonorities and effects of the reedy saxophone. The performance of Mr. Hyla’s work would be the magnum opus of this extraordinary disc was it not for the exquisite nature of the rest of the material.

John Adams’ “Fearful Symmetries” is a dark piece and the PRISM delivers it to the inner ear full of glinting lights, mysterious depths and expectations. The work paints a picture of doubts, hopes and redemption in the breathtaking avant-garde expressionism. David Rakowski’s four-part suite “Compass” is wonderfully animated by the PRISM and is exemplified by the exuberant work of its members as they make the black dots leap miraculously off the staves. Bernard Rands’ composition “Prism (Memo 6b) is played with suitably mysterious, at times snarlingly aggressive, and sinuous textures while Chen Yi’s piece reaches levels of great meditative and – when the music’s narrative approaches its dénouement – even playful virtuosity.

At the end of the disc is the shortest piece: “Squeeze” by Augusta Read Thomas. But it is a potent work and the lyricism of the work is exquisitely disseminated by the PRISM as they explore the full range of colours and the wheezing grandeur of Miss Thomas’ wonderful piece.

Released – 2018
Label – xas Records
Runtime – 1:04:58

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