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The Seasons - 20thCentury Music for Wind Quintet 
see end of review for details
Berlin Philharmonic Wind Quintet
rec. 1991-2002
BIS BIS2072 [4 CDs: 70:00 + 61:42 + 65:25 + 71:36]

This four disc set brings together wind quintet repertoire from disparate corners of the BIS record catalogue. The Villa-Lobos Quinteto em forma de chôros for instance was part of a complete set (see review), though you won’t find any duplication with later discs such as the ensemble’s Danses et Divertissements album (see review). I am still very happily in possession of the Franz Danzi complete wind quintets collection (see review), and with imaginatively managed programming for this widely varying collection of 20th century works this specially priced box set has good prospects.
 
Indeed, from the start this collection has a ‘what’s not to like’ feel about it, commencing with the lively Pièces brèves by Ibert to get us all into a spring-like mood. This is better known than Tomasi’s Printemps, which with its birdsong and the added spice of a solo saxophone with the quintet is attractively written and filled with wit and surprise. You would expect superlative performances of classics for wind such as Milhaud’s La Cheminée du roi René, and that is exactly what we have here. The Berlin Philharmonic Wind Quintet’s sound is really flexible: from warmly expressive and fluidly lyrical, to the kind of pungency and rhythmic sharpness demanded not only by French composers. The familiar is once again placed against less frequently heard fare, this time with the elegant restraint of Koechlin’s excellent Septuor. Both playful and light in tone and texture, this is a surprisingly youthful work from the then 70 year-old composer, having fun with fugues which dance with decidedly un-academic frivolity. Françaix’s energetic Quintette No. 1 is terrific fun to play and to hear, expertly put together and performed with superb élan in this recording. The first CD ends with a spectacular little encore, the runs of Bozza’s Scherzo having something of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumblebee.
 
CD 2 brings us into summer, and the expressive languor which opens Barber’s Summer Music. The virtuoso elements in this 20th century American classic proves the player’s chops for a work by Elliott Carter which wrong-foots us by its good humour and strong sense of cadence and tonality. Looking back to student days as a pupil of Nadia Boulanger, Carter aimed to please his teacher with “music of the kind [she] would have wanted me to write when I was her student.” Schuller’s Suite is great fun and still nowhere near what anyone could claim as being avant-garde, with references to folk music and jazz. The musical quotes in Machala’s miniature American Folk Suite are great fun and make a good accompaniment to the Schuller work, forming a kind of prelude to Medaglia’s Suite 'Belle Epoque in Sud-America'. Written for the ensemble recorded here, this and the Suite popular Brasileira are sophisticated works which reference existing musical sources without overplaying the elements of parody, creating work of substance and refined technique. Pitombeira’s Ajubete jepê amô mbaê further demonstrates the breadth of sonorities and rhythmic feats possible from a wind quintet, creating a mini-concerto through its exchange of brilliantly accompanied solos.
 
Recorded in a slightly drier acoustic, CD 3 takes us to Autumn and significant works by Hindemith and Henze. The Klein Kammermusik Op. 24 No. 2 comes from his inter-war period as the ‘enfant terrible’ of German music. Filled with humour and witty parody, this was written for the leading players in Frankfurt at the time and remains a favourite of the wind quintet repertoire. Thirty years on and Henze’s Quintett brings us for the first time into worlds of what might be termed ‘modern’ music by today’s values. Even where abstraction has become stronger, this is a work which retains traditional values, extending tonality and melody into more enigmatic realms but, with beauty and energy, entirely within the idiom and character of each instrument. L’autunno from 1977 is more poetic and romantic, described by Henze as “programme music”, evocative of memories “both fleeting and more clearly defined”. With altered sonorities introduced through the use of alto flute, a Wagner tuba, piccolo and bass clarinets and a contrabassoon, this expressive but sometimes elusive work has something about it which recalls Alban Berg, as well as fragments which remind me of Stravinsky in carnival mood. The programme concludes with Hindemith’s post-war Septett, with its added trumpet and bass clarinet. Hindemith had emigrated to America by this time, and the music reflects a more relaxed feel while at the same time being rich in expression, especially in the slower Intermezzo movements.
 
Composers from more northern climes bring us the Winter Songs of CD 4, the exception being Australian Brett Dean’s eponymous work which is the only contribution with a vocal part. Daniel Norman sings settings of e.e. cummings’ texts from a collection dealing with aspects of winter, his voice balanced amongst the instruments rather than projected as star soloist. Extended performing techniques and subsidiary instruments widen the sound palette from the winds, at times creating moods reminiscent of Ligeti. Erkki-Sven Tüür’s series of works entitled Architectonics are amongst his best known pieces, and the first has elements reminiscent of the simplicity for which Arvo Pärt became renowned. Tüür contrasts his reflective passages with more active sections, while still retaining formality of structure and content. Pēteris Vasks from Latvia’s Music for a deceased friend is a haunting musical epitaph, while Arvo Pärt’s Quintettino comes from his early compositional period, in which atonality and collage techniques create compact movements of unexpected energy or rarefied atmosphere. His final ‘’ave a banana’ turn at the close shows an aspect of his character none of us know much about. The final masterpiece here is Nielsen’s Wind Quintet, Op. 43, which sits between the fifth and sixth symphonies and is filled with their fingerprints.
 
This is a superb collection of extremely fine performances, and should be part of everyone’s collection: no need to try, just buy! My copy has the labelling of CD 2 and 3 mixed up on the actual discs, so please check to make sure you are not listening to Hindemith or Henze and thinking you might have to re-evaluate your thinking on Barber or the music of the Americas. BIS has acknowledged this fault and doubt it will be sorted out in the future. The booklet is well documented with all sung texts given.
 
Dominy Clements 

Track listing
CD 1 Printemps
Jacques IBERT (1890-1962)
Pièces brèves (3) for wind quintet (1930) [6:54]
Henri TOMASI (1901-1971)
Printemps for wind quintet and saxophone (1963)* [9:09]
Darius MILHAUD (1892-1974)
La Cheminée du roi René, Op. 205 (1939) [13:07]
Charles KOECHLIN (1867-1951)
Septuor pour instruments à vent (1937)* ● [15:52]
Jean FRANÇAIX (1912-1997)
Wind Quintet No. 1 (1948) [20:24]
Eugène BOZZA (1905-1991)
Scherzo pour quintette à vent (1944) [2:35]
rec. January 1991, Andreaskirche, Wannsee, Berlin.
 
CD 2 Summer Music
Samuel BARBER (1910-1981)
Summer Music, Op. 31 (1956) [11:06]
Elliott CARTER (1908-2012)
Woodwind quintet (1948) [7:48]
Gunther SCHULLER (b. 1925)
Suite (1945) [5:43]
Kazimierz MACHALA (b. 1948)
American Folk Suite (1980) [1:48]
Júlio MEDAGLIA (b. 1838)
Suite 'Belle Epoque in Sud-America' [9:25]
Heitor VILLA-LOBOS (1887-1959)
Quinteto em forma de chôros, for flute, oboe, clarinet, cor anglais and bassoon (1928)** [9:44]
Liduino PITOMBEIRA (b. 1962)
Ajubete jepê amô mbaê (1991) [4:52]
Júlio MEDAGLIA
Suite popular brasileira (1991-93) [8:44]
rec. April 1998, Traumton Studio, Berlin-Spandau.
 
CD 3 L’autunno
Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1963)
Kleine Kammermusik for wind quintet, Op. 24 No. 2 (1922) [13:26]
Hans Werner HENZE (1926-2012)
Quintett (1952) [10:31]
L’autunno (1977) [24:45]
Paul HINDEMITH
Septett für Blasinstrumente (1948)* ○ [15:15]
rec. September 1991, Studio Fritsch und Friends, Berlin-Spandau.
 
CD 4 Winter Songs
Brett DEAN (b. 1961)
Winter Songs for tenor and wind quintet (1994/2000) [26:21]
Erkki-Sven TÜÜR (b. 1959)
Architectonics I (1984) [4:40]
Pēteris VASKS (b. 1946)
Music for a deceased friend (1982) [9:49]
Arvo PÄRT (b. 1935)
Quintettino, Op. 13 (1964) [3:51]
Carl NIELSEN (1865-1931)
Wind Quintet, Op. 43 (FS 100) (1922) [25:14]
rec. October 2002, Siemens Villa, Berlin, Germany.

Other performers
Manfred Preis (alto saxophone/bass clarinet) (Hindemith)*
Gerhard Stempnik (cor anglais)●
Nigel Shore (cor anglais)**
Thomas Clamor (trumpet)○
Daniel Norman (tenor); Hermann Bäumer (conductor) (Brett Dean).

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