IN: Reviews

Woodwinders Mostly Enrapture


The Berlin Philharmonic Wind Quintet returned to the Celebrity Series at Jordan Hall Friday,  drawing enthusiasm from works of Mozart and Neilson, restoring luster to an early Ligeti, which, though still listenable, has lost some luster, but they also prompted the question in their Boston premiere of a Kalvi Aho, a favorite of the esteemed BPWQ, of why they programmed his piece.

A half-full house was ready when the five took the stage, and from the very second they began Mozart up to the release of their very last breath in that piece, we experienced bliss, pure and simple. An arrangement of Fantasy in F Minor for Mechanical Organ, K. 594 by a sixth contributor, Michael Hasel was added reason. His instrumentation of the three movements, Adagio, Allegro, and Adagio, displayed that blend of foreign instruments. But blend comes up short here. The Berlin winds in this rendition might best be described as delivering a “composition of sound.”

While the Mozart seemed to be over in the blink of an ear, the Kalevi Aho related more to sitting out one of those traffic tie ups at rush hour well known to Boston commuters. Titles of each of the four movements might further indicate the non-committal work’s core: “Quiet beginning,” “Virtuoso toccata,” “Quiet, flowing,” and “Finale.”

Relying on chromaticism, that interval of the half-step, the writing slid up and down, never finding traction. Much like the tonal conception of successions of that smallest interval, the rhythmic conception did the same via unrelenting pulses. The BPWQ’s unimpeachable iteration could not come to the rescue in the end, though listeners’ attention, seizing upon virtuosity, color, and other things technical, could find reward.

How did Wind Quintet No. 2 find its way to the Jordan Hall stage? Perhaps “Notes on the program” could answer that, at least in part. “What particularly impressed the members of the Wind Quintet was Ano’s First Quintet (2006)… . Not only were the performers fascinated by the piece, but their audiences around the world have also been universally delighted by the work’s richness of colors and the exuberant variety of styles.” As to the response of Boston attendees to Finnish composer Aho’s second quintet, it was, not surprisingly, polite.

György Ligeti’s Six Bagatelles from 1953 continued the mostly traditional woodwind fare programmed for the Friday night outing. These oft-played miniatures came under electric fire with BPWQ, the peevish opening re-energizing their stalled concert. The lamentoso and grazioso bagatelles that followed illustrated the dramatic and subtle mood shifts this revered ensemble can deliver. The concluding Molto vivace, fully charged, simmered down to a magical final note in the Capriccioso.

Yet, who would dare to venture out with the intent of trying to describe each individual’s sound, technique, artistry? Most admirable, their being such a tightly knit precision machine. Their near unworldly capabilities created woodwind wonder. Such breadth of breath!

Flutist Michael Hasel, oboist Andreas Wittmann, clarinetist Walter Seyfarth, hornist Fergus McWilliam, and bassoonist Marion Reinhard would finish off their planned program with perhaps the best performance I have ever heard of Carl Nielsen’s Wind Quintet, Opus 43. A rare gem in the somewhat attenuated woodwind quintet repertoire in these hands, it shone brilliantly through magnificently rarefied light. Who would even want to talk individuals when combined, they are like nothing you could ever imagine coming from a concoction of instruments.

What a surprise, what a terrific treat—finally an encore altogether worth hanging around for. Gunther Schuller’s Blues with jazzy moves and blinding mixtures of timbre leaving us spellbound. Schuller would have been enraptured with their lush precision.

A Tango from Julio Medaglia that followed just could not outshine the blues. 

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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  1. I thought that the Aho was more interesting than the Nielsen (which I liked), and that the audience’s response was considerably more than polite. Perhaps it was the reviewer, and not the concert, that was stalled.

    We are equally enthusiastic about the Schuller encore, though. The horn player, who introduced it, referred to him as a Boston composer; I wonder if he knew that Schuller was the president of the institution whose name was prominently displayed on the wall behind him.

    Comment by SamW — February 4, 2017 at 1:59 pm

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