Ashu demonstrates classical sax virtuosity

The Daily Gazette
Music Review

GLENS FALLS — To find a virtuoso on the classical saxophone is uncommon even on the international level. But if there’s a list of the top ten, Ashu must lead the pack. His debut recital on Sunday afternoon as part of the deBlasiis at The Hyde Chamber Music Series wowed the large crowd.

Since graduating from Northwestern University, Ashu, who is currently based in Chicago, has performed to great success on the world’s stages. On Sunday, he impressed on many levels. Besides a formidable technique that was as agile as it was flawless, he has a way with a lyrical line.

Not hesitant to wear his heart on his sleeve, he built the phrases with such intensity and passion that he wooed the crowd. Pitch and breath control were exceptional, as was his amazing control over the soprano sax, known for being a fractious instrument.

It was his natural connection with his instruments, though, that made his music personal. Whether it was on alto or soprano saxophone, the instruments were an extension of Ashu. He played in a conversational style. Toss in a little showmanship with a few adroit moves and a personable manner, and the audience was charmed.

He was very comfortable with his program, which he did from memory. Pianist Winston Choi ably assisted. Ashu also skillfully arranged several pieces.

They began with Jacques Ibert’s “Concertino da Camera” (1935). Frenetically busy passages, which were greatly similar to Ibert’s Flute Concerto, framed an inner lyrical section. Ashu was like a racing flame with fingers and tongue flying. In the slower second movement, his tone was mellow and smooth.

Ashu arranged the Andante from Rachmaninoff’s Cello Sonata, which was very pretty. Paul Creston’s Sonata for Alto Saxophone was a solidly conceived work that the duo did very well. Dramatics were held more to a minimum.

The second half had Ashu’s arrangements of three Piazzolla tangos (“Bordell 1900,” “Many Years Ago,” and “Nightclub 1960”) that Ashu and Choi knocked off with style. Three tunes from Ennio Morricone’s film scores (“The Mission,” “The Untouchables,” and “Cinema Paradiso”) were passionate plus.

Jules Demersseman’s “Fantasy on an Original Theme” had scores of notes that whizzed by amid a few beautiful lines. Ashu milked the sentiment in the right places and Choi followed.

The audience jumped to its feet and got another Piazzolla tango: “Liber Tango.” Ashu electrified the crowd with even more fiery runs and taunting twists and turns.

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