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
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.
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.
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
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.
Claude-Paul TAFFANEL (1844-1908) Quintette pour instruments
à Vent (1876)
- Allegro con moto (9’08)
- Andante (6’29)
- Vivace (7’48)