How often does a recital include three world premieres? Then again, how often does a recital feature the combination of alto saxophone, bassoon and piano? The eight works on this Pan Harmonia program included two for solo saxophone (one of which was a premiere), two for alto saxophone and piano (both world premieres), two for bassoon and piano, one for saxophone and bassoon, and one for all three instruments. This recital took place in the Broyhill Chapel of Mars Hill University and was well attended by about sixty students and perhaps twenty-five faculty and community members.

Alan Theisen was featured on alto saxophone with Rosalind Buda on bassoon, while Ivan Seng was the collaborative pianist. All three musicians demonstrated their technical abilities and their musicianship throughout. My only discomfort was excessive fussing on stage with the saxophone reed. If Theisen was having problems with his reeds, which happens to the best of players, he should take care of it backstage.

The program began with “A Sonorous Dialogue to the Moon” by Brazilian composer Antônio Francisco Braga (1868-1945), performed on saxophone and bassoon. With outstanding clarity in the legato early passages, the performers educed thoughts of darting moonbeams. Then late in the work, the bassoon provided a Hispanic rhythm under a sonorous saxophone theme. An interesting work.

Stephen Dankner‘s “Romance” for solo sax, composed in 2000, was given its world premiere. Danker (b. 1944) was a student of David Diamond, and like Diamond is decidedly twentieth century but Romantic in style. To this listener it was the least appealing of the three premieres. 

Robert Schumann’s Three Romances for oboe andpiano, Opus 94, in a transcription for bassoon, wisely and beautifully makes much use of the higher register. Schumann personified the active and the passive aspects of his personality as Florestan and Eusebius. The second romance was a calm work by Eusebius, and then Florestan came on stage for the third romance, a spirited introduction and dance. This was musically the high point of the concert for me.

Clare Shore (b. 1954) is in the process of composing River Songs, and the first two movements of the planned three-movement suite for saxophone and piano were presented. “Peace at Dawn” is a calm work featuring quiet trills and piano glissandos, while “Juniper Run” is a mixed meter depiction of white water. The composer was in attendance, having traveled from Florida for this world premiere.

After intermission, Theisen performed two of Philip Glass’ Melodies for Saxophone and then Seng joined him for the third world premiere, “Absence Wild” by California composer Garrett Ian Shatzer (b. 1980) and created for Theisen. The performance began with a recitation of the poem “Foraging for Wood on the Mountain” by Jack Gilbert, whose second line includes the words “absence wild.” The piano is a more-than-equal partner in this work; in fact Shatzer has also composed a solo piano version of the work.

David S. Kirby’s primary instrument was the clarinet, but he also performed on bassoon, and the next piece was his best-known composition “Reverie and Dance” for bassoon and piano. This Western North Carolinian’s style, at least in this work, reminds me of Prokofiev’s.

The final selection on the program was composed by Marguerite Roesgen-Champion (1894-1976) for alto saxophone, bassoon, and piano. The ten-minute work, in four movements, exploits the best features of the three instruments in a whimsical style that reminded me of her contemporaries of “Les Six,” perhaps a combination of Germaine Tailleferre and Francis Poulenc. This was a wonderful choice to end a stimulating concert.

The program will be repeated on the next two Sunday afternoons in Asheville, and I encourage the reader to take advantage of this opportunity to hear a musically satisfying and thought-provoking program. It is a winner. See our sidebar for details of the upcoming repeat performances.