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Westwood Wind Quintet - Augmented
Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1963)
Septet for Woodwind Quintet, Trumpet and Bass Clarinet (1948) [16:17]
William MATHIAS (1934-1992)
Concertino for flute, oboe, bassoon and piano (1974) [11:30]
Bruce STARK (b. 1956)
Americana Wind Quintet (2009) [17:19]
Leoš JANÁČEK (1854-1928)
Mládi [Youth] for Wind Quintet and Bass Clarinet (1924) [17:16]
Westwood Wind Quintet
Doug Reneau (trumpet)
Carol Robe (bass clarinet)
Lisa Bergman (piano)
rec. 2015, Crystal Records Studio, Camas, USA

The wind quintet consisting of flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and horn became established in the late eighteenth century as an ensemble suitable for entertainment music. There is a large repertoire for this ensemble, and a few masterpieces, notably by Nielsen, Schoenberg and Birtwistle. You might have expected Mozart, with his enjoyment of wind instruments, to write for this ensemble, but he preferred the older one of pairs of instruments, excluding flutes.

The Westwood Wind Quintet has been existence for nearly sixty years, with the oboist Peter Christ, its founder, still in position, though the others have changed over the years. They are leaders in their field. Christ also founded Crystal Records, who have issued more than twenty-seven albums from this group. Here, they have departed slightly from their usual fare, with two works which add instruments to the basic quintet, one for a rather different ensemble, and only one for the basic combination.

Hindemith’s Septet adds a trumpet and a bass clarinet to the ensemble. It was written in 1948, in a break from his teaching duties at Yale University and not long after he had formalized his theories of composition in a textbook and the great Ludus Tonalis for piano. Some of Hindemith’s works can sound as if written on autopilot, but this is not one of them. It is an exciting piece, and in it he recaptures the brio and sense of fun of his early Kammermusik piece of twenty years earlier. It is in five movements, with the fourth being an exact reversal of the second. The central movement is a set of variations, in which each instrument has a variation to itself. The outer movements are lively, and the finale includes an Old March from Berne, played on the trumpet. I was very glad to get to know this work.

William Mathias is a composer I have admired since I was bowled over by his third symphony, and I try to hear everything of his I can. His Concertino was written for treble recorder (or flute), oboe, bassoon and harpsichord (or piano). Here the alternatives on modern instruments are taken. His idiom is tonal, admitting modal and modernistic elements, and is always elegant and well crafted. This work is in three short movements, with the outer ones full of rhythmic tricksiness while the central slow movement has a lovely line on the flute. Pleasant though the Westwood performance is, I looked up a performance on the composer’s original choice of instruments, which one can find on a mixed recital disc called Fantasising (review), and found this even more attractive.

Bruce Stark was a name new to me, though the liner note tells me that he has written a whole range of works and has been performed and broadcast on four continents. This is the only work here for the basic combination of five instruments. It is in four movements, opening like pastiche Stravinsky before several changes of mood and style. The slow movement features declamatory passages for the different instruments. In the third movement the oboe plays above a rippling accompaniment on flute and clarinet while the bassoon and horn add gravity. The finale is a jazzy number. To tell the truth, I found this work, while perfectly competently composed, to be rather lacking in character and easily forgettable.

And so to the Janáček, the only work here I knew already. This adds a bass clarinet to the basic combination, and is clearly a masterpiece as well as being a most charming and delightful work. I was startled when I heard the opening oboe solo, which was sour and out of tune. I had to replay it several times to make sure my ears were not deceiving me. The first two movements are lumpy and graceless. Matters improve afterwards, but it is too late. I put on the Prague Wind Quintet, on a disc coupled with the two Janáček string quartets (Supraphon 11 1354-2) for contrast – of course these players have this music in their blood – and immediately recognized a fluent and idiomatic performance. Of course, anyone can have a bad day, but I am surprised that this was not held back until the players had rehearsed the Janáček a little longer.

I have no quarrels with the recording, and the liner note, in English only, gives useful information, though it is a little short on dates. The Hindemith and Mathias works are genuine discoveries. It’s a shame about the Janáček.

Stephen Barber



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