With rampant publishing, a conservatory full
of virtuoso teachers, an industry of fine instrument makers and
a Société dedicated to the cause, the Paris of the
middle nineteenth century was the epicenter of all things à
vent. As a result, composers French and otherwise flocked to Paris
and turned out dozens of works, some masterpieces and some schlock,
for combinations of wind instruments. The recital at hand presents
some fine examples of chamber works for winds, and the excellence
of the performances makes a strong case for the genre.
The program opens with the captivatingly fresh Quintette of André
Caplet, a composer who was amongst a group of fine musicians that
came of age at the same time or just after Debussy and Ravel,
and sadly do not seem to garner the attention they deserve. Caplet
was a star of the Paris Conservatoire, and this work was awarded
a prestigious prize shortly after it was completed. Caplet went
on to defeat Ravel in a competition in 1901. He developed a double
career as a conductor and composer, and became close friends with
Debussy. He left behind only a small output of music, but these
works are refined to a very high degree.
Given its first performance in 1900, the Quintette uses classical
structural forms. That it is scored for winds and not strings,
however, gives it a completely open and transparent atmosphere,
allowing for a melodic clarity that can only be achieved by the
diverse timbres of the instruments involved. The Hexagon Ensemble
deliver a remarkably transparent performance, exquisitely balanced
and with a fine sense of ensemble. This is a work that needs to
be heard more often, and listeners are sure to find it a pleasant
change of pace from string fare.
The other highlight of the program is the most effective arrangement
of Claude Debussy’s Six Épigraphes Antiques, scored
originally for piano four-hands, here arranged for flute, horn
and piano. These arrangements are completely effective, and make
for some very interesting sonorities, unachievable on the piano
alone. Played to excellent effect, these moody, evocative pieces
are an aural delight.
The two shorter works that round out the program are also excellently
rendered, and add color and flavor to an already substantial recital.
This is a disc of most refreshing repertoire, and is recommendable
as a starting point for listeners unfamiliar with music for winds.
There is nothing here that does not delight the ear.
Notes and sound quality are in the same fine vein as the music
and performances. Recommended without hesitation.