Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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Len Mullenger:

(1841 - 1904)
Serenade for Wind. Op.44 23.27
Dixtuor. Op. 14 19.52
(1854 - 1928)
Mládí 16.48
Oslo Philharmonic Wind Soloists
Recorded Ris Kirk (Oslo) (Dvorak, Enescu)And Sojenberg Kirke, Oslo (Janacek) 4-6 Nov 1996 Naxos 8.554173 [60.24]

Three pieces on this Naxos offering of works for wind - all three from Eastern European composers, two of whom continue to ride high in the popularity stakes, the other, the Romanian Georges Enescu, is a fringe figure.

Dvorak's Wind Serenade from 1878 is the best known piece of the three on offer - a work that crops up regularly on disc. The piece is written for ten wind players, and unless my ageing ears have finally given up on me there is a cello in there too. The Serenade's opening movement includes the popular March, leading to a rustic sounding Minuet with a quicker central section. The essence of so much of Dvorak's music is its charm and this piece is very much in that mould. The third Movement is Andante and its open textured colouring, a lovely oboe part prominent, and its increase of tension and tempo half way through are very appealing. More rusticity in the Allegro - some fine ensemble playing here at the briskest of tempi - leading back to the March and an exhilarating ending.

Dixtuor, an early work by Enescu, dating from 1906 is scored for the same ten wind instruments as Dvorak's Serenade. The impression it gives hearing them closely together is of a more sophisticated, more considered work, more intellectual - but one lacking in audience appeal. The first movement, marked doucement is just that, but one wonders where it is going. It meanders and one listens hard for some roughage in its blandness. The second movement does little to raise the temperature until a chirpy flute-led tune appears before being shared around. The work concludes with more interplay between instruments in a graceful finale to a one-dimensional work. Sadly, the example of his writing on this disc will do little to bring him in from the cold.

Mládí means Youth in Czech. Janacek wrote it when he was 70 - just four years before his death - and he was looking back at his time as a young man. In his later years he fell deeply in love (an unconsummated passion) for a young married woman and much of his best writing was after she came into his life. The work is for a Wind Sextet and in four movements.

The gain from the difference in texture with fewer players is instantly apparent at the opening of the Allegro. Janacek's quirky sense of rhythm, with rapidly changing tempi can hardly fail. The Oslo Sextet blend beautifully and their ensemble work is first rate. The theme and variations in the Andante keep the interest and the inventiveness of the Vivace (with some notable work by piccolo) with its imaginative speed diversity and aural colour changes are fascinating. The closing Allegro confirms the appeal of an intriguing and rewarding work. The pick of the disc, undoubtedly.

The recording is clear with the balance about right and no over-focusing. The players from the Oslo Philharmonic are excellent individuals and blend well as a team.

Anyone wanting this particular selection of works or with an ear for wind playing need not hesitate. At Naxos price this CD must be recommended.


Harry Downey

and Peter Grahame Woolf adds

No angst in this programme, which makes for a happy hour's listening, just right for unwinding, with a glass of your preferred, after a day's work. Everyone loves the Dvorak Serenade for Strings, but his 'other' serenade (Op. 44), a typical example of his music around 1880, is not heard too often, even though there are some twenty recordings. It preserves its freshness and is always welcome. For wind band with lower strings, there are four tuneful movements, redolent of Dvorak's homeland, expertly scored to give everyone a good chance.

The Romanian George Enescu's Dixtuor Op. 14, is less nationalistic, and remains the least known of the three. Never likely to make the 'canon', it deserves an occasional airing.

Despite Naxos deciding to feature Dvorak in boldest print for marketing purposes, the masterpiece here is Janacek's astonishing Youth sextet of his old age, for normal wind quintet plus bass clarinet which colours the ensemble uniquely. Mladi is untiringly fascinating, however many times heard, and one of my favourite pieces of music. This one makes fifteen versions in the catalogue. It seems brings out the best in wind players, who always seem to relish it. I recall the London Sinfonietta players, directed by David Atherton, as particularly felicitous [Decca 430 375-2DH2]. The Oslo soloists, without a named director, give very satisfactory, robust performances. At Naxos' bargain price, recording and presentation are perfectly satisfactory.


Peter Grahame Woolf


Harry Downey


Peter Grahame Woolf

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