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Broadway Chamber Players: "Black and Blue" at St. Malachy's

by Robert Leeper

BCP, Black & Blue

Photo credit: Broadway Chamber Players

For the musicians that haunt the orchestra pits of some of New York's biggest theaters, versatility is key: These pros read like the New York Phil, swing like the Jazz Standard, and are constantly learning pieces on the fly for harried directors and hard-nosed producers. These characteristics are becoming increasingly common among chamber groups as well, making Broadway Chamber Players an organically occurring group in the New York chamber-music scene.

Monday's performance brought four of Broadway's top woodwind doublers to St. Malachy's – The Actors' Chapel for a program dubbed "Black and Blue"—named after the Broadway musical celebrating Jazz Age music and dance in Paris between the world wars. It was a promising performance and hopefully the sign of a group capable of equally polished and developed programming in its future. The loose conglomeration of pieces displayed a wide range of talents and areas of interests, but the rapid transitions from one piece to the next left little space for reflection during a piece and even less time to sink into any one mood.

The highlight of the evening was no doubt Billy Kerr's evocative arrangement of Billy Strayhorn's "Lush Life" for saxophone quartet. The impressionistic, chromatic musings were enhanced by the saxophones timbres, which melded effortlessly into one another and added a haunting new angle to the beloved classic.

As if to offset the harmonic brilliance of "Lush Life," it was followed by a simple—albeit virtuosic—sax feature by one of the doublers himself, Chad Smith. Arranged for mixed wind quartet and saxophone, Sax-O-Trix was a joyful romp made all the more enchanting by the genuine joy Mr. Smith seemed to get out of performing the piece.

Eugene Bozza's Andante et Scherzo featured exotic whole-tone harmonies and flowing melodies in the French chamber music style. Of special note was the gorgeous tenor solo that introduced the piece—the plaintive motif spiralled forth before intertwining with countermelodies and a warm chorus of support from the powerful, but expertly restrained group.

A vivid account of Milhaud's Pastorale for Oboe, Clarinet, and Bassoon tumbled along with an upbeat tempo, making for a more cheerful than reflective Pastorale. During the few minor-key cadences in the otherwise relentlessly upbeat tune, the group had a dark burnished tone and seemed to be truly relishing the moment.

The crowd-pleasing conclusion to any program about France in the '30s, of course, has to be Gershwin—in this case, his Three Preludes for piano arranged for saxaphone quartet. Most notable was the second movement which features a recent addition to the saxaphone family: the soprillo saxaphone. The instrument—pitched an octave above the soprano sax—was able to sit comfortably on the deep chordal pads below it, occasionally shifting melodic responsibility to the alto sax for a darker sheen.