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George ONSLOW (1784-1853)
Quintet in F major, for flute, oboe, clarinet, horn and bassoon, op. 81 (1850) [23:14]
Sextet in E flat major, for piano, flute, clarinet, horn, bassoon and double bass, op. 30 (1825) [32:47]
Ma’alot Quintet
Markus Becker (piano)
Nabil Shebata (double bass)
rec. 2017, Konzerthaus der Abtei Marienmünster, Germany
MDG 90320126 SACD [56:02]

In the last couple of years, I have favourably reviewed two Naxos releases of string quintets by George Onslow (Volume 1 ~ Volume 2). Hence, I was keen to audition this new recording, but perhaps I should have considered more carefully the fact it contains works for wind ensemble, not a combination that does much for me. Nevertheless, having requested the disc for review, I determined to listen with an open mind.

Onslow only wrote five chamber works for wind, an output which is dwarfed by the 70+ for string groups. If you need some biographical information about this Anglo-French composer, may I direct you to my review of Volume 1 of the string quintets. The Quintet was one of his last works, and possesses all the grace, charm and wit that I had come to expect. However, the burblings and chirpings of the instruments were also what I had anticipated, and despite Onslow’s best efforts, I remain unconvinced. The work is written in a very concise manner, with no time given to note-spinning or frilly over-elaboration, so its twenty-plus minutes pass very quickly.

The Sextet “dilutes” the wind concentration with a piano and double bass, but at the expense of the oboe, my favourite wind instrument. It is more garrulous than the first work, but the presence of the piano brings it a little closer to my usual sound world. As a consequence, I found it more to my liking, while recognising that it lacked some of the imagination of the later work. I could hear a lot that made me think of Hummel, and the slow third movement is very fine.

The tonal qualities of the wind instruments are excellent, and the recording of them is immediate but warm; I did feel the piano sounded a little recessed by comparison. The booklet notes concentrate on an analysis of the musical structures, with lots of points linked to specific timings, and rather less on the historical aspects, but this may be for reasons of lack of information.

I enjoyed these two pieces more than I thought might, which speaks of the quality of the music and the performances.

David Barker


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