in: Reviews

July 19, 2010

Imani Winds: Choice But Brief

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Sunday afternoon, July 18, Maverick Concerts presented an uncommon talk-to-music ratio. Music Director Alexander Platt engaged in lengthy introductions to all but the last item on Imani Winds’ program, sometimes including dialogues with the players. The music, though, was mostly choice and all very well played.

It’s a bit startling to hear, at the beginning of an Imani concert, that aggressive, powerful, and crisp sound. Imani plays with a kind of dead-on precise coordination that takes a while to get used to. (This is not a complaint!)

Sunday’s program began with Red Clay and Mississippi Delta, an inventive and amusing program-opener by Imani’s flutist Valerie Coleman. Its sometimes raucous five minutes went by very quickly.

Irving Fine was a short-lived (1914-62) American composer, a protégé of Aaron Copland, who was remembered with much love and admiration by his contemporaries. His Partita for Wind Quintet, one of his few works that survives even on the fringes of the repertoire, is a dedicated piece of neo-Stravinsky, not as cogent as the master’s work but still tasty and well written for the winds. If it has a weak point, it might be the final slow Coda, which seemed a bit overlong. Imani’s performance combined strength and refinement, a vivid presentation.

In Barber’s familiar Summer Music, Imani’s performance seemed eerily precise, almost as if performed by a computer. But it had plenty of human expression, along with a beautiful quality of balance that let every line in Barber’s writing sing.

An odd arrangement of the Scherzo from Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream didn’t work very well despite the dazzling performance. But the Wind Quintet of John Harbison, which followed, provided the most substantial music of the afternoon. Like Fine, Harbison’s wind writing is highly influenced by Stravinsky. But Harbison, three decades after Fine’s music, took the Stravinsky style much further into the 20th century, imitating the style and counterpoint to some extent but going into atonal realms that Fine never dreamed of. The music picks up much of Stravinsky’s lucidity and some of his humor; the final movement sounds like a march at a lunatic asylum, alternately disturbing and hilarious. This is truly distinguished music, given a very expressive performance with even more impressive feats of coordination. The audience greeted the performance with whoops and cheers, not what you always expect from the gray heads who make up most of the Maverick crowd.

In the final brief Klezmer Dances, arranged by Gene Kavadlo, Imani’s clarinetist Mariam Adam proved that she could hold her own in a genuine klezmer band, with the kind of sliding inflection the real klezmers use.

My only complaint about this concert is its brevity. By my watch we got just over an hour of music, stretched out to normal concert length by talk. How about adding a Reicha Quintet next time? The way these musicians play, that would be a real treat!

[Ed. Note: Review title changed]

Leslie Gerber lives in Woodstock, New York. He has been reviewing professionally since 1966, for such venues as Performance Today, Fanfare, and Amazon.com. He also publishes the Parnassus Records label.

4 Comments

  1. The headline for this blog “Imani Winds not Windy enough”, does not accurately reflect the blog entry itself, which goes out of its way to praise the ensemble, and rightfully so. If your “only complaint … is its brevity” then your title should not focus on it.

    Comment by Bob — July 20, 2010 at 1:00 pm

  2. Playing for an hour without an intermission seems quite enough to me regarding wind players. It takes a bit of stamina to puff into your instrument that whole time, especially with the energy the Imani Winds put into it.

    Comment by TT — July 20, 2010 at 2:35 pm

  3. I found the title to be a bit confusing. I might have considered a title something like “Imani Too Windy”
    as in long-winded if I wanted something cutesy. “Chicago is a windy city” refers to the verbosity of its pols. And yes, 1 hour of music is all that one often gets in a wind concert.

    On the other hand, excessive talk can be annoying. Perhaps an intermission would have allowed for more music.
    In any case, I have asked the editor to change the title.

    Comment by Lee Eiseman — July 20, 2010 at 2:52 pm

  4. OK. I have to weigh in. Yes, I acquiesced to our Fearless Leader and allowed a change in the title. Boring, isn’t it?

    I do wish I had written, “Imani Winds Not Wind Enough, Spoken Part Too Windy.”

    As for the length of play, I can guess that the reviewer would have suggested 3/4 hour of playing, then a 15-minute intermission, then another 3/4 hour of more playing. Isn’t that fairly standard?

    It’s like buying a strawberry ice cream cone and coming to find just one partial strawberry. Cheated.

    Comment by Bettina A. Norton — July 20, 2010 at 4:22 pm

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