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Boréalis En Salon: 19th Century French Music for Winds
Claude-Paul TAFFANEL (1844-1908) Quintette pour instruments à Vent (1876) [23.16]
Adolphe Édouard Marie DESLANDRES (1840-1911) Trois Pièces en Quintette (1900) [11.42]
André Georges Louis ONSLOW (1784-1853) Quintette, Op.81 (1853) [23.13]
Charles Édouard LEFEBVRE (1843-1917) Suite, Op.57 [11.21]
The Borealis Wind Quintet (Katherine Fink (flute), Tamar Beach Wells (oboe), Kathryn Taylor (clarinet), Dan Culpepper (horn), Wayne Hileman (bassoon))
rec. St John’s Lutheran Church, Stamford, Connecticut, 15-20 Nov 2007. DDD
full track-list below
MSR CLASSICS MS 1250 [69.27]
Experience Classicsonline

This disc is a collection of nineteenth century French composers that most people will not have heard of.

In the nineteenth century the wind quintet was in its infancy in comparison to the string quartet. Writing for wind quintet is difficult is a different way to that of the string quartet, due to the extra voice and the combination of five very diverse instruments that produce sound with air. The Borealis Wind Quintet have attempted to show the French repertoire of this period in its best light.

From the outset it is evident that the Borealis perform well as a unit. It’s always a good sign when you can hear an ensemble breathe as one. The beginning of the Taffanel creates a dark, brooding character to the typical sonata-form movement. Despite a narrow range of dynamics there is clean articulation, great shifts in tone colour and a fabulous blend between the clarinet, horn and bassoon. The second movement features a rather pleasant horn solo, but alas it is badly scored in the lower register. This is utterly ruined by unsympathetic accompaniment in the oboe, also set in a poor register. The Vivace movement does redeem Taffanel a little, due to some agreeable solos written for his own instrument, the flute. Fast passages sound rushed and this is one of the few moments where Borealis loses its poise in a mad rush to scramble through the fast passagework. It finishes with a bizarre abrupt slow section. All in all this is a poor piece of music, performed relatively well but without much finesse.

Deslandres’s quintet features a beautiful chorale with a warm flute solo and countermelody in the horn. As in the previous quintet, the intonation of the clarinet mars the overall impression of the work, although Borealis allows the music space before continuing on with the next phrase. The first movement has some stylish flute playing. There are disagreements in the runs in the clarinet and oboe in the Scherzo, but the rest of the movement is cheeky and bouncy in character. The ending is especially mischievous. The quintet excels in its slowing of tempo in the Finale, and the major key episode makes a good contrast to otherwise repetitive descending runs. The fast sections in the clarinet are sloppy, and the same instrument’s key clicks distract from the music.

The real high point of this disc is the third quintet by Onslow. The influence of his teacher Anton Reicha (referred to as ‘the godfather of the wind quintet’ in the programme notes) is evident through the idiosyncratic writing for each of the five instruments. The work has four movements, and these are structured in the manner of a mini-symphony. The Scherzo demonstrates the quintet’s variety of articulation and delicacy in the main theme, with a very lyric horn and oboe duet in the slower central section. By using only three instruments at a time, each player is granted a moment to shine in the Andante, creating a refreshing sense of repose. In a similar fashion to a comic opera, the Finale is full of musical surprises. Katherine Fink delivers some impressive flute playing, delivering a rather challenging passage with apparent ease. The whole work is very well balanced between the five instruments and has lovely shadings and graded easing of speed towards the end of phrases.

The Lefebvre suite uses the instruments of the quintet in pairs, which creates duets of timbre in the first movement. The nature of the canon structure - a passage repeated exactly by another instrument a short time after the first instrument - could result in monotonous playing, but Borealis create beautiful shapes with appropriate dynamics and phrasing. The balance is perfect, as is the tuning. The fast third movement allows the flute to shine. The strong finish is a good way to round off the disc.

The overall impression of this album is of pleasant chamber music. None of these pieces are of particularly weighty substance or high quality content. The Borealis delivers the vast majority of the music with character, energy and great ensemble playing with just a few moments of bad intonation and lack of dynamics.

Sabrina Pullen

Claude-Paul TAFFANEL (1844-1908) Quintette pour instruments à Vent (1876)
  1. Allegro con moto (9’08)
  2. Andante (6’29)
  3. Vivace (7’48)
Adolphe Édouard Marie DESLANDRES (1840-1911) Trois Pièces en Quintette (1900)
  1. Andante (4’56)
  2. Scherzo (2’38)
  3. Finale (4’08)

André Georges Louis ONSLOW (1784-1853) Quintette, Op.81 (1853)

  1. Allegro non troppo (7’51)
  2. Scherzo: Energico (3’54)
  3. Andante sostenuto (6’49)
  4. Finale: Allegro spiritoso (4’39)

Charles Édouard LEFEBVRE (1843-1917) Suite, Op.57

  1. Canon: Moderato (2’39)
  2. Allegretto scherzando (4’43)
  3. Allegro leggiero (3’58)
 
 


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