The Galliard Ensemble Purcell Room. 7 December 1999

An old cliché, and no doubt an annoying one, but it is hard to devise a full-length programme for a wind quintet: not through lack of repertoire, but because of the nature of so much written for the medium. How much Françaix or Taffenel can you take at one go? All credit then to The Galliard Ensemble for putting together an 80 minute programme which balanced the diverting with the thought-provoking.

Opening with the typical mid-19th century harmonienmusik of Giulio Briccialdi's Quintour, they proceeded straight to a curiosity. Arvo Pärt's 1964 Quintettino, freely combining serial rigour with Dada-ist conceit, is light years away from the spirituality of the music for which he is now famous, but remains a fascinating document of formative influences tested and rejected - well worth reviving. Hindemith's relatively well-known Kleine Kammermusik, winsome despite the robustness of the part-writing, was elegantly brought off, while Berio's early Opus Number Zoo, a whimsical oddity somewhere between Poulenc's Barbar … and Walton's Façade, found the quintet reciting and playing with aplomb.

An active commissioning policy, not least through their annual Composition Competition, is one of the Galliard's most admirable traits. This year' winner was Luis Tinoco, a 30 year old Portuguese composer, whose Autumn Wind, inspired by the poetry of Philip Larkin, was a two-movement study in sonority and movement; complete in itself, yet evocative in the restrained yet haunting manner of the words that inspired it. By contrast, Philip K Bimstein's Eat Drink Gamble Sex pitted the quintet against a taped montage of Vegas imagery. Fun … first time around.

Paul Patterson has been a mentor to the Quintet since their student days at the Royal Academy. The Galliards have recorded his complete works for wind quintet for release on Meridian next year, and two of the works featured in this recital. Westerly Winds is a recent reworking, Grainger-style of four West Country favourites, as enjoyable to listen to as it must be to play. Comedy for Five Winds (1972) is technically more demanding, stretching the idiom of Malcolm Arnold's famous Shanties to its limits, while giving the quintet's constituents, the horn in particular, plenty of opportunities to shine. It made for an extrovert conclusion to an instructive and entertaining concert. You're unlikely to hear this repertoire better played or presented. Do catch The Galliard Ensemble on a future occasion.

Richard Whitehouse

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