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György LIGETI (1923-2006)
Six Bagatelles for wind quintet (1953)
Carl NIELSEN (1865-1931)
Woodwind Quintet, Op. 43 (1922)
Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
String Quartet No. 12 in F Major, Op. 96 ‘American’ (1893), (transcr. wind quintet by David Walter)
Ensemble Ouranos
rec. 2018, Palais de la Musique et des Congrès, Strasbourg, France

Ensemble Ouranos was founded in 2014 by five young wind soloists, all graduates of the Paris Conservatory. Their debut album was released on NoMadMusic. They clearly relish the opportunity to record some of the greatest works of the wind quintet repertoire, two of the greatest quintettes à vent by Ligeti and Nielsen, plus Dvořák’s best-known string quartet arranged for wind quintet. Debut albums do not get much better than this.
In 1953, Ligeti arranged his Six Bagatelles for wind quintet from a set of his eleven piano pieces called Musica ricercata. Ligeti’s later works are often intensely challenging. Although the Bagatelles follow strict harmonic structures, there is nothing difficult to worry about. They are quite delightful and accessible pieces. It is pleasing that wind ensembles now regard these works as core repertoire. Listening to Capriccioso, the final Bagatelle of the set, it is hard to believe that this fascinating piece was prohibited from performance for its dissonance and chromaticism. In 1965 in Budapest only five of the set of Bagatelles were allowed to be premièred. In this performance by Ensemble Ouranos I am struck by the freshness and vivacity of the first-class playing.

Nielsen’s Wind Quintet was composed in 1922 and premièred the same year in Copenhagen. Written especially for the Copenhagen Wind Quintet, the score, which incorporates his own personal style with aspects of neo-classicism and modernism, is now a repertoire staple. Ensemble Ouranos radiate assurance in a performance with warmth and focus.
During his stay in America from 1892 to 1895, Dvořák spent his summer holidays at a Bohemian colony at Spillville in Iowa, where he immediately felt identification and great happiness among his fellow countrymen. In these favourable conditions, Dvořák completed in 1893, in just a matter of weeks, his so-called American Quartet. The score found instant acclaim and enduring popularity for its masterly construction and splendidly memorable invention. Keen to expand the repertoire, Ensemble Ouranos invited American composer David Walter to prepare a transcription of the Quartet for wind quintet. It sounds quite outstanding here in its new guise. Not surprisingly, other wind ensembles have soon taken up Walter’s transcription. There is a strong sense of melodic freshness as Ensemble Ouranos play with lyrical warmth and considerable expression that all feels so heartening.

Highly committed and assured, the Ensemble Ouranos plays splendidly throughout with an abundance of alertness, vitality and uplifting joie de vivre. The players create a wide tonal palette and their respective instruments produce glorious intonation. The disc was recorded at Palais de la Musique et des Congrès in Strasbourg. The engineering team excel with honours. The studio sound is crystal clear and well balanced. With a playing time over just over an hour, adding another work or two would have made the album more competitive. There are, for example, Barber’s Summer Music, Ibert’s Trois Pièces brèves, Milhaud’s La Cheminée du Roi René and Arnold’s Wind Quintet or Three Shanties.

As far as albums of wind music go, this is one of the finest I have had the pleasure of hearing for some time. Enthusiasts of wind music have absolutely no reason to hesitate.

Michael Cookson

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