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Cracow Wind Quintet and Friends
Alexander ZEMLINSKY (1871-1942)
Humoreske (Rondo) [4:12]
Paweł ŁUKASZEWSKI (b.1968)
Wind Quartet for oboe, clarinet, bassoon and saxophone
Artur MALAWSKI (1904-1957)
Morskie Oko [4:39]
Krzesimir DEBSKI (b.1953)
Cantabile in h [4:41]
Darius MILHAUD (1892-1974)
arr. Don Stewart, Scaramouche, Suite for saxophone and wind quintet [9:58]
Mikołaj GÓRECKI (b.1971)
Burlesca for wind quintet and piano [13:20]
Cracow Wind Quintet
Beata Bilińska (piano), Paweł Gusnar (saxophone)
rec. 2017/18, Concert Hall, Wojciech Kilar Music School, Katowice, Poland
DUX 1566 [43:50]

This is a most interesting and enjoyable disc.  Most of the music will be unfamiliar, the only well-known item being an arrangement of Milhaud’s ‘Scaramouche’ Suite, usually heard as a piano duet.

The players of the Crakow (or Krakow if you prefer) Wind Quintet are brilliant executants and fine musicians.  They have also done well to find so much music which includes the saxophone, because it’s quite a rare combination. It does mean the disc is rather short at just under 44 minutes, but there it is.

They begin with a charming little Humoreske by Alexander Zemlinsky, written in the sad, final years of his life in the USA.  Nothing of the frustrating circumstances he found himself in - he failed to establish himself as a composer, and died after only four years there – is apparent in this piece.  It is a delightful miniature, and the quintet play it with wit and appropriately perky articulation.

Paweł Łukoszewki’s Quartet is a brilliant piece in three short movements, set for oboe, clarinet, bassoon and alto saxophone - a somewhat intractable ensemble you might think, but it works quite beautifully, and is played with immaculate ensemble. I must also pay tribute to the sensitivity which the saxophonist Paweł Gusnar brings to the group.  The sax is inherently more powerful in tone than its three companions here, but Gusnar manages to blend superbly, so that the textures of this fine music are perfectly achieved. I was reminded, in the opening Allegro of Stravinsky’s great Symphonies of Wind Instruments; then the Lento molto that follows is, in its shifting colours, faintly reminiscent of Schönberg’s Farben from the Five Pieces for Orchestra.  However, Łukoszewki has a musical personality all of his own, and the nervy, rhythmical finale completes a remarkable small-scale masterpiece.

Malawski’s Morskie Oko takes us back to the standard wind quintet grouping – flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn.  This is taken from a three-movement work of which the remaining two movements have disappeared. That is indeed a pity, because this is really fine music, whose title refers to the largest and fourth-deepest lake in the Tatra Mountain in Southern Poland; and this music (plus a few stealthily googled images) made me very much want to visit this grand and imposing area – one day perhaps!  The music unfolds much as, say, Holst’s Egdon Heath does, with episodes of varying texture giving way to each other, but always preserving a sense of loneliness, of something intimidatingly remote.

The versatile composer Krzesimir Dębski, possibly best known as a film composer, is represented by his Cantabile in h (‘h’ being German notation for our note ‘B’, and lower case denoting minor modality), another attractive and expressive short piece.

Milhaud’s Scaramouche is uncomplicated fun, but it has been splendidly arranged by Don Stewart. (The booklet notes are generally very good, but, though they expatiate on the background of the piece itself, they make no mention of Mr. Stewart, so I’m afraid I can’t enlighten you).  Milhaud himself made an arrangement for saxophone and orchestra, so the presence of that instrument in a prominent, soloistic way, seems entirely authentic. There’s also some highly effective use of the piccolo. Again, the playing from the whole group, is very fine and full of character, and that continues to be the case in the final piece, Mikołaj Górecki’s Burlesca for wind quintet plus piano.  This is an instrumental ensemble – piano plus quintet - that desperately needs more repertoire to add to the great Sextet of Poulenc – and precious few other pieces.

This Góreki is the son of the famous Henryk, and judging from this work, he has inherited an enviable portion of his father’s talent.  The title suggests something light and humorous – but this is nothing of the sort. The opening music, which returns to conclude the piece, moves slowly, with ostinati in the piano and a wailing bassoon.  That gives way to a powerfully dancing allegro full of driving rhythms and gurgling arpeggios in the wind.  The pianist Beata Bilińska, like the rest of the participants, plays with imagination and flair.

This is a very fine disc then, and music well worth hearing, even if wind quintets are not always your very favourite medium.

Gwyn Parry-Jones

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