Reviews

Category Five Wind Quintet

Lindis Taylor


The Mulled Wine Concert, Category Five, Paekakariki, July 15, 2012

The famous Mulled Wine Concerts in the hall on The Parade, Paekakariki, staged the first performance by a new wind ensemble, to honour the stormy seas pounding the beach across the road. No ordinary wind ensemble, that usually includes flute and horn, but one comprising entirely reeds – single and double.

Moira Hurst introduced the players, explaining the name Category 5 as relating to the meteorological classification of wind strength, and noting that though something of a storm was visible outside only 50 metres from the hall, that was perhaps only a category 3½ (what was happening inside was something far more formidable!). (Ignorant of nautical weather scales, I looked it up through Google. The scale presumably referred to is not the Beaufort Wind Scale but the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale which uses the word ‘category' and goes from 1 to 5. LT).

Each player, as the concert proceeded, added anecdotes to explain the special virtues or playing difficulties of his or her instrument, sometimes drawing unflattering comparisons with players of other instruments.

For example, Simon Brew noted that the demand for music for wind groups, particularly saxophone quartets, was met by arrangements, mainly of music out of copyright; and those arrangements were, accordingly, protected and yielded royalties to the arranger; it had become a lucrative secondary income for poor sax players.

An overture opened the concert: that to Tchaikovsky’s ballet, The Nutcracker (if only orchestral programmers could get over the deathly, over-used, popular suite of Nutcracker dances!) It proved an admirable candidate, in an arrangement that seemed to suit the quintet perfectly, even the saxophone whose sound, unsurprisingly, was here more in sympathy with its colleagues than it might be in a symphony orchestra.

Mozart’s Serenade, K 388, in C minor, is a wind octet – one of the three marvellous wind serenades, with K 361 and K 375, written in the early 1780s. Mozart rescored it for string quintet in 1787 (K 406), and it may have been largely the latter that was used for this latest version for five reed instruments. Again, the fit, and the tonal contrasts displayed in this arrangement were most attractive. Tui Clark’s bass clarinet tends to be confined, like the bassoon’s, to a bass line but here it was free to relish some individuality. Simon Brew’s saxophone made a remarkably authentic fit in Mozart’s texture; Peter Dykes’ fine, high oboe line was conspicuous though, by the second movement, it began to sound a bit insistent. They all played with great energy, if perhaps a little fast in the last two movements; and ensemble was excellent throughout.

La Poule is taken from Rameau’s second book of pieces for harpsichord, amusingly suggesting the squawk of a chicken, to which Moira Hurst offered an alarming simulation. The said squawks were passed, democratically, from one instrument to another.

Those who did not know the source of the oddly titled ‘Jesu joy of man’s desiring’ (for the original ‘Jesu bleibet meine Freunde’) by Bach, would again have been enchanted to find it as an aria in his cantata BWV 147, ‘Herz und Mund, Tat und Leben’ – one of the cantatas probably written in the early, Weimar years. Here the oboe took the rippling accompanying motif while the clarinet played the melody, as if Bach had scored it for these instruments.

The Browning was a medieval popular song, used for a set of variations for recorder consort by William Byrd. It may have been a controversial concession for the group to have succumbed to using music composed for scorned, reedless instruments; but they would have justified it by the tonal variety that was available to them and which they made full use of; they might also, perhaps, have introduced some greater dynamic variety in their playing, but their coping with the extremely difficult rhythms in the piece obscured the rather unvarying tempo.

The concert ended with what was perhaps the most challenging adaptation, Debussy’s piano suite, Children’s Corner. It had been so transformed as to be almost unrecognisable, until the most familiar theme of the first section of Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum appeared. Peter Dykes replaced his oboe with a cor anglais (or ‘anglé’, as he explained, noting the still common misapprehension that there is something English about the alto version of the oboe; yet in my Larousse dictionary it is still ‘cor anglais’). The saxophone was prominent here, taking a high line.

In the next piece, Jumbo’s Lullaby, it was the turn of Penny Miles’s bassoon to take the opening solo phrases. In the fourth section, The Snow is Dancing, a slight weakness, often noticeable, was a lack of dynamic subtlety, of attention to the need for really quiet playing, both in response to the character of the particular movement, and merely for variety’s sake. The snow was very heavy.

However, in the final section, Golliwog’s Cake Walk, it was their strengths, the energy and their so conspicuous enjoyment of music making together that spoke most clearly, justifying the creation of a new and rather novel (for Wellington anyway) instrumental ensemble. Their encore, a piece called Hip-hop, by Ellington, was well placed and enhanced the enjoyment of the after-match mulled wine and snacks.


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