IN: Reviews

Stopping for Boisterous Woodwinds in the Snow


As Pro Arte’s Chamber players sounded out Mozart and French oeuvres, listeners could also watch the snow falling outside the windows of the Scandinavian Cultural Center in West Newton.  Sunday afternoon, Mozart and Poulenc works for winds and piano tended to be Americanized with a stoutness that filled the golden rafters of the attractive and intriguing, high ceilinged Nordic Hall.  The greeters on hand were ever so welcoming. Cheerful commentary from one of the players lent an informal tone and elicited laughter mostly uncommon to such outings.

First off, it was reassuring to be reminded by clarinetist Ian Greitzer that the woodwinds are “vastly different” from each other. Unlike the strings, who are the mainstay of an orchestra, the winds supply color.  That, of course, would hardly reset the expectancy of avid woodwind followers.  Blend pops into our minds. Over the course of the program played without intermission (a good decision not only because of the fast accumulating snow, but because of the pervasive friendly atmosphere) a veritable “composition or conversation of timbre” amongst the six was achieved, but only at times.

Jacques Ibert’s Trois Pièces Brèves got off to an unsure start.  The Allegro could have glided less, been given a dancing lilt. In the Andante, the flute and clarinet duet showed convivial signs of two instrumentalists understanding each other both in phrase and timbre.  When all five joined for a kind of extended ending, there was that “harmony” of instruments, that kind of enchantment only such diverse woodwinds can create. Big blasts from the horn, prominent melody making in the concluding Assez lent let that “harmony” off the hook.

Greitzer commented on Mozart being his favorite composer, one who “never wrote a bad piece.” Surprisingly, Greitzer unabashedly pointed out Beethoven’s shortcomings, one such, his Wellington’s Victory, “a stinker,” the clarinetist revealed, eliciting some real down-to-earth chuckles.

Pro Arte Chamber Orchestra Salon Series then went to Mozart’s Quintet in E-flat major for Piano and Winds, K. 452. A fine opening of piano and woodwind interplay set in motion the Largo that would soon turn to faster tempo wherein a jovial spirit clipped along more often deferential.

Beauty and strangeness surfaced in the slow interior Larghetto where the five verged on refinement, departing for a moment to paint marching imagery.  For the final movement, well-meaning accents, matching imitative renderings, and true as can be contrasts enlivened Mozart, and exhibited an ensemble vision.

La cheminée du roi René by Darius Milhaud issues an imperative for the French vernacular, and the Pro Arte winds obliged—up to a point. There were tempting awakenings in Aubade but too much individualism in Cortége and JongleursJoutes sur l’Arc with its fetching two-note rhythm obviously caught on with the quintet, which was superb pressing along with it. A joyous hunt followed raising the stakes once again.  But too much restlessness again marred Milhaud’s sunny Aix-en-Provence musical nature.  Just too much big sound overtook the suite of seven pieces so well-known to and a favorite of audiences, woodwinders or not.

Inspired by the aesthetic of Swedish painter Carl Larsson,
the Nordic Hall, here set up for a banquet,  was designed by CBT Architects

Francis Poulenc wrote a good amount for winds, among his works, his Sextet for Piano and Winds. This piece stands out for its highly personal imprimatur, if not for its instrumental concatenation.  The six performers went toe to toe with the virtuosic writing. The feigned melancholy, the swooning, and sardonic put-ons of Poulenc hovered about as ghostly proclivities.

Did the hall and small audience fail to reconcile the big sound?  Certainly in some of the quieter passages that magic of woodwind distinctiveness came again.

Ann Bobo, flute; Nancy Dimock, oboe; Ian Greitzer, clarinet; Ron Haroutunian, bassoon;
Robert Marlatt, horn; and Rebecca Plummer, piano—all individually admired for a host of accomplishments—teamed up for what turned to be a fine joint hearing. That, in and of itself, left a glow.

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).

Comments Off on Stopping for Boisterous Woodwinds in the Snow