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Tadeusz SZELIGOWSKI (1896-1963)
Wind Quintet (1953) [18:03]
Grażyna BACEWICZ (1909-1969)

Wind Quintet (1932) [10:53]
Incrustations for horn and chamber ensemble (1965) [15:47] (World Premiere Recording)
Wojcieh KILAR (b.1932)

Wind Quintet (1952) [15:58]
Cracow Philharmonic Wind Quintet: (Krysztof Kawula (flute); Mariusz Pędziałek (oboe); Jan Cielecki (clarinet); Mirosław Płoski (horn); Zdisław Bogacz (bassoon)); Instrumental Ensemble (for Incrustations): (Mirosław Płoski (horn); nna Sikorzak-Olek (harp); Jan Pilch (percussion); Bogusława Ziegelheim (violin); Agata Zając (cello); Marek Kalinowski (contrabass))
rec. 3-4 June 1999, Austrian Consulate, Cracow, Poland
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The wind quintet is an interesting medium. Born in the late 18th century, it is sometimes characterised as the wind player’s answer to the string quartet. I find this misleading; better to see it, I think, as a close smaller relative of the ensembles found in the serenades of Mozart and others. After its late Classical origins, it was more or less ignored by Romantic composers, but has enjoyed a huge renaissance in the 20th century, most notably in the work of Neo-Classical French composers, from Darius Milhaud to Jean-Michel Damase. Casting a wider glance, there are fine examples in the music of Carl Nielsen, Paul Hindemith, Luciano Berio, Samuel Barber, Malcolm Arnold, and many, many more besides. On the whole, composers have taken the medium seriously, yet kept their music for it light and entertaining.

Even Hindemith’s Kleine Kammermusik of 1923 has the character of a divertimento, and the Polish composers represented on this excellent disc have largely followed that example. The booklet makes much of the composers’ Neo-Classicism; well, there is a Classical profile in the four-movement form of each work. But if you’re expecting the playful ‘Back-to-Bach’ piquancy of Dumbarton Oaks or Les Six, you could be disappointed.

The playing is of a high standard, all five members of the quintet being wind principals in the Cracow Philharmonic. However, they do play like a group of excellent orchestral musicians - with tight ensemble, generally good intonation, fluent technique – rather than a true chamber ensemble, such as the superb Ma’a lot Ensemble in Germany, or Nash Ensemble in the UK.

What of the music? First let it be said that it is all well worth hearing, though the first quintet, by Tadeusz Szeligowski, is possibly the least immediately enjoyable, with a slightly distracted air. But it grew on me, and I enjoyed the twitchy, slightly obsessive main theme of the first movement. The Andante cantabile is a rather despondent little slow movement, followed by a hard-driven scherzo. That rather tense mood persists into the finale, which works out its problems with a lengthy fugue.

Grażyna Bacewicz’s quintet is the earliest work here, dating from 1932 when she was in her early twenties. It’s a cheerful and inventive work, written for the medium with an impressive assurance for such a youthful composer. There’s almost a moto perpetuo feel about the quavers that pervade the first movement. The Air which follows consists of a dialogue between horn and bassoon, while the higher instruments weave a neutral background. The tiny Allegretto has a folk-dance feel to it, while the final Vivo is a very lively affair, with enjoyably catchy rhythms and airy melodies.

I’ll make no secret of the fact that it was the next work, the 1953 quintet by Wojcieh Kilar - himself born in the year that the Bacewicz quintet was first performed - that I enjoyed most of the whole compilation. Well written as the other works are, Kilar has a real idiomatic feel for the wind instruments, as well as an ear for beautiful textures. He begins with a restless Sinfonia, that alternates a staccato rhythmic pattern with plaintive lines for oboe and, later, horn. The Presto is a scherzo with simple and compound rhythms ingeniously superimposed, and a folksy central interlude.

Kilar’s most striking movement is the very beautiful Choral varié, in which an expressive phrase initiated by the bassoon is pensively passed round the ensemble, with very beautiful harmonies, often shifting against pedal notes in one or other instrument. Mirosław Płoski struggles manfully with the very low horn writing here. The whimsically bitonal finale - I love the indication un poco ridiculoso – ‘slightly ridiculous’ - has strong echoes of Prokofiev in his most cheeky vein, and the group point up the articulation of the dotted rhythms in alert fashion. There is a grotesque cadenza, ending with a Gershwinesque upward slide, as well as a regretful backward glance at the chorale melody of the third movement. The short coda concludes with a throwaway ending that understates the excellence of this closely argued score.

The disc is completed with Incrustations, a work for horn and ensemble by Grażyna Bacewicz. It is interesting to compare this work, written in her final years, with the quintet from her early twenties. However, the piece does sit slightly uncomfortably with the rest of the music on the disc. It could be described as ‘sixties impressionism’, with the emphasis on atmosphere and tone colour rather than musical continuity. The booklet purports to explain the odd title, but to my mind does no such thing, and it remains a bit of a mystery! However, this is a lovely piece in its way, with some truly magical textures if you can cope with the generally gnomic character; try, for example, the beginning of track 14, with horn solo against deep percussion and harp ripples. Something strangely nautical about this.

Not a spectacular disc, but an immensely worthwhile one, which I find has repaid many repeated hearings. The recording is exceptionally good, given the notorious difficulty of achieving a good recorded balance for wind quintets.

Gwyn Parry-Jones


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