IN: Reviews

Roasting Chestnuts and Arranging Bouquets


Not the muse of circus keyboards, Calliope prefers epic poetry. Homer agrees.
Not the muse of circus keyboards, Calliope prefers epic poetry. Homer agrees.

If your eyes were shut so that your ears could be wide open, you would think, at least much of the time, that a highly experienced, technically adept, and mightily talented ensemble was playing before you. Taking a look at the five musicians that make up Calliope Winds would then surprise. Only five years together, this wind quintet is already a unified collective, and a young—very young—one at that.

The acoustics at St. Stephen’s Church in the North End for the most part furthered the quintet’s fine auditory sensibilities. Some 50 minutes of music seemed just right for their coverage of the coloristic.

While the opener, the Allegro from Jacques Ibert’s, Trois Pièces Brèves (Three Short Pieces) was on the tentative side, the following Andante’s trio of flute, clarinet and bassoon warmed up; the oboe and horn then joined in for a satisfying close. Several uncertainties from the horn and minor imbalances in the ensemble came to play in the third piece, Assez lent, allegro scherzando.

Perhaps it was with Ibert’s complex textures that the church’s space did not fully cooperate; less so, it seemed, a result of the ensemble’s ways with interpretation. A bit of acoustic interference again surfaced in Malcolm Arnold’s Three Shanties.

I mention this aspect of the performance because players otherwise vividly crystallized their greatly colorized sound in the Six Bagatelles by György Ligeti and flight-of-the-bumblebee speeds in the Scherzo by Eugène Bozza,

Of the melodies in Three Shanties “What Shall we do with the Drunken Sailor?,” “Boney was a Warrior,” “Yo Ho, Blow the Man Down,” I only know the first one and so had more fun with Arnold’s sophisticated “animations.” Craziness such as from the sudden appearance of a tango or a scary interjection from a stopped horn succeeded by way of Calliope. Once again, they know this music well, have obviously studied it, and found a way to maintain the fun.

Then on the Ligeti school of fun. Each Bagatelle begged for the most refined articulation to give meaning to less trodden compositional paths. Calliope obliged with brilliance of timbres coming from each of the five instruments along with superb interactions be it duets, trios, quartets, or for tuttis.

Samuel Barber’s Summer Music brimmed with feeling. The warmth was palpable given the atmospheres summoned by the five-voiced namesake of one of the Greeks most misunderstood muses. Deep expressiveness came especially from Michelle Zwi’s lead oboe.

In the short and fast Bozza scherzo carved out with nuance amidst whirling chromatic scales up and down the instruments’ ranges. Alicia Mielke, flute; Michelle Zwi, oboe; David Dziardziel, clarinet; Ali Eaton, bassoon, and Jennifer Robbins, horn lifted the spectacularly technical Bozza into a masterly musical realm.

There is an audience out there unfamiliar with these wind quintet favorites. So it is good that Calliope took this little programming “risk.” For those who have known these works over the years, it could only have been most gratifying, if not thoroughly enjoyable, to have encountered these chestnuts as a seasonal roast, if you will.

Hats are off to the North End Music and Performing Arts Center. Founded in 2001, NEMPAC serves over 700 students a week through education programs and partnerships with the Elliot BPS Innovation School and the St. John Catholic School. Its mission is to provide programming for the community that is both of quality and accessibility. BMInt readers may very well remember our reviews of NEMPAC’s summer operas which defied the odds.

David Patterson, Professor of Music and former chairman of the Performing Arts Department at UMass Boston, was recipient of a Fulbright Scholar Award and the Chancellor’s Distinction in Teaching Award. He studied with Nadia Boulanger and Olivier Messiaen in Paris and holds a PhD from Harvard University. He is the author of 20 Little Piano Pieces from Around the World (G. Schirmer).

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