Carmel Bach Festival 2016:  Summer Winds

Wind instruments

By way of light relief from the Festival’s main Sunday offering of Bach’s B Minor Mass, the evening chamber concert in All Saints’ Church featured two relatively modern works for wind quintet, the second also adding a piano. The players were Dawn Loree Walker (flute), Neil Tatman (oboe), Ginger Kroft (clarinet), Britt Hebert (bassoon), Alicia Mastromonaco (horn), and Keenan Boswell (piano).

Klughardt’s Wind Quintet in C is a pleasantly melodious late romantic piece in four movements, familiar to all wind players who attend chamber music workshops. There’s always someone in the hallway saying “I’ve been assigned the Klughardt,” generally with a smile on their face. So it is enjoyable to play, without many technical challenges, and Sunday night’s quintet conveyed this enthusiasm to the audience. They all had pleasing tones and fluent fingering, and reveled in their solos, which were equitably distributed.

There is, however, always a difficulty with the limited repertoire for wind quintet, that there are few full-time groups that rehearse as intensely, and reach the same standards as, say, a string quartet. In the Klughardt, there was a slight imbalance, and the exposed sounds, all blown at us, seemed at times rather tiring to the ear in All Saints’ live acoustic.

Wind instruments  usually appear to me to sound best together with strings and/or piano, and this was borne out right from the violent start of Poulenc’ s Sextet for Piano and Winds. Paradoxically, although the total decibels were certainly higher than in the Klughardt, and the rhythms and dissonances were quite spikey, the listening  was easier. The piano, imperiously played by Boswell, was a unifying force or anchor for the winds, producing a more satisfying heart to the ensemble sound than the side by side comparison of timbres in the pure wind quintet.

The work has two outer quick movements with slow centers, separated by a slow movement with a quick center, such that the overall pattern is of alternating quick and slow sections (with a few extra alternations thrown in for luck). All of this succeeds, thanks to the composer’s imaginative vitality in the quick music, and his inimitable languor in the slow interludes.

For all its virtuosic challenges, this is an easier work to bring off — a masterpiece— and brought off it certainly was, bringing the audience to its feet., as a memorable end to the day.


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