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Josef Bohuslav FOERSTER (1859-1951)
Wind Quintet in D major, Op.95 (1909) [19:20]
Pavel HAAS (1899-1944)
Wind Quintet, Op.10 (1929) [13:57]
Leoš JANÁČEK (1854-1928)
Mládí (Youth), Sextet for Wind Quintet and Bass Clarinet (1924) [17:22]
Belfiato Quintet
Jindřich Pavliš (bass clarinet in Janáček)
rec. Prague, 2017
SUPRAPHON SU4230-2 [50:56]

The three works here were composed over a two-decade span by a brace of Moravians – Pavel Haas representing one strand of the School of Janáček that was to be so brutally swept away during the Second World War – and the Bohemian Foerster, long versed in the Austro-Germanic muse.

Foerster’s Wind Quintet, one of his most celebrated chamber pieces, dates from 1909 and was composed when he was living in Vienna. I’m not sure as to the authority that it was Mahler’s suggestion that Foerster should write one, but it would have been a perceptive recommendation given a Czech composer’s affinity with winds, and the elevated state of Czech orchestral and chamber wind playing - or indeed the lineage dating back at least to Reicha. The writing is echt-Romantic, fulsome and frolicsome, melodic and colourful and beautifully balanced between the five instruments. The influence of Richard Strauss infuses itself most audibly in the slow movement, where there is a supremely articulate descant for the clarinet. The composer’s identity can be inferred from the Sousedská dance embedded in the Scherzo which is full of flair and fun. The finale meanwhile is avuncular, cast in the best traditions of native wind writing. It’s very obvious, not least from this fresh, warmly lyrical and technically accomplished performance just why Foerster’s work has kept its secure place in the repertoire.

Haas’s 1929 Quintet announces its own lineage almost immediately – the metric and motoric elements of the writing owe much to Janáček, the music emerging burbling, avid and chattering. It’s slightly different in the Preghiera, where the influence is more directly Gallic – specifically Ravel. Here Jiří Javůrek plays especially beautifully. But as those who know Haas’s String Quartets will appreciate, he could summon up wonderful sonorities and generate galvanising rhythms like the best of them, and does so in the scherzo, a so-called Ballo eccentric, a kind of stylised folk dance. The strangely unsettled elegiac finale strikes one as unusually impassioned: is it too fanciful to see it as a farewell to his old teacher, who had died the year before?

And so it’s appropriate that the disc ends with Mládí which is much the most-recorded of the three pieces. Its life-force is splendidly realised here, where bass clarinetist Jindřich Pavliš contribution is not merely essential but splendidly musical.

Given that the performances by the young members of the Belfiato Quintet are so fine, the recording so sympathetic and the booklet so attractive I feel churlish to note the playing time, though I do so as an observation on this occasion, rather than a criticism. Otherwise, this disc offers pure unadulterated pleasure.

Jonathan Woolf

Previous review: Gwyn Parry-Jones (Recording of the Month)



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