Very few composers would have the wit and courage to title pieces Opus Pocus or Smart Alex, and fewer still would be able to bring the witty elements off with the élan and professionalism of Canfield.
Warmth, genuine lyricism, and humor are qualities in short supply in much of the music written in recent decades, but they are ever-present (and much welcomed) in the music of David DeBoor Canfield. Very few composers would have the wit and courage to title pieces Opus Pocus or Smart Alex, and fewer still would be able to bring the witty elements off with the élan and professionalism of Canfield.
Take Smart Alex, for example. It was composed for a young saxophonestudent named Alex Van Dyke and employs some avant-garde techniques that do notget in the way of accessibility. There are also quite witty interjections by a“page-turner/assistant,” who can be heard arguing with the saxophone soloist attimes. Even Canfield’s tempo marking in the score (“Zippity Quick”)demonstrates his easy good humor, as does the sudden C-Major cadence that interruptsthe harmonic chaos at the end. Opus Pocuswas originally written for a more conventional wind quintet, but thecomposer arranged it for a saxophone quartet. Canfield had a quotation of the Sacre du Printemps bassoon solo in theoriginal, but he changed it for a quote from the Glazunov Saxophone Concerto inthis version. (He couldn’t stop himself from being cute, however—the Glazunovwas composed for alto sax, but Canfield gives the quote to a tenor sax here). Opus Pocus is filled with delightful turnsof phrase and a surprising variety of color from four saxophones (soprano,alto, tenor, and baritone).
The disc’s opening Five Lyric Pieces are genuinely touchingand lovely, and the lyrical Elegie nachBrahms stays in the memory. Canfield relates a touching story about thepiece’s origins in the excellent notes that accompany the disc. The Sonata after Poulenc is one of a seriesof works for different combinations of instruments where Canfield replicatesthe sound world of other composers; this one is particularly effective. Aabac was written for thewonderfully-named Zzyzx Quartet (I am grateful I am not currently announcing onthe radio and having to figure out how to pronounce that). The title Aabac mirrors Zzyzx from the other endof the alphabet. I will confess that this is the piece I had the most troubleconnecting with, perhaps because of my own fairly conservative tastes. Canfieldstates that he composed it in a more advanced tonal language than was his norm.Repeated hearings allowed the music to grow on me.
Canfield was born in 1950, and the mostof the music here was composed relatively recently, between 2012 and 2016. Awide range of influences is evident, but Canfield’s individual voice is alwaysheard. This is a delightful, engaging collection, well performed throughout andwith a surprisingly consistently good recorded sound given the wide range oforiginal sources.
Aabac was written in 13 days between Septemeber 10th and November 2nd of 2013, the composition being interrupted by several trips and other projects that the I had to undertake. The title was conceived before even a note of the music was written, and came from each letter of the name of the dedicatory group being reversed, as it were, in the alphabet, Z becoming A,Y becoming B, and X, C. Thus the name of the Zzyzx Quartet, certainly alphabetically the last among all performing ensembles, generated a name for a work that would be alphabetically first among all pieces of music. This idea appealed greatly to the me, given that I have taught biblical theology, and as an expositor of the Bible, was aware of the statement of Jesus, "So the last will be first, and the first last, " (Matthew 29:16) a statement declaring that many who are in a top status in this world will be at the bottom in the next. However, by choosing this title is not meant to suggest anything about the Zzyzx Quartet's standing in the saxophone world, even though the group is recognized as one of the top quartets currently active. The name also appealed to me because it can be represented by the four notes A-B-B-flat-C derive. This occurs, since in German notation, the note B is B-flat, while in English, it is B-natural, which is H according to German usage. With this tetrachord, the well-known B-A-C-H motive may be presented, and indeed, this ordering of those pitches is frequently employed in the work. After this initial tetrachord, Icreated two others (D, F-sharp, E-flat,G, and E, F, G-sharp, C-sharp) to complement the first, and to fill out the remaining eight notes of the chromatic scale. The entire piece is spun out from these three tetrachords, which are used in both melodic and harmonic ways. The final section, however is much more loosely based on them. The tonality of Aabac, pronounced "aback," is quite free, and is rather atonal at times, with the juxtaposition of more than one of the tetrachords often employed. Cast in one continuous movement, the work has several sections that contrast in mood, tempo and complexity. All in all, the work reflects my attempt to display both the virtuosity and musicianship of four gifted performers, who have set an extremely high standard in saxophone quartet playing. From the founding of the group, the members of Zzyzx Quartet include Stacy Wilson, soprano sax, Stephen Page, alto sax, Matt Evans, tenor sax, and Dana Booher, baritone sax.