Opus Number Zoo

0 of 5 stars

Opus Number Zoo
Cinco Elegias
Early Hungarian Dances
Dance Suite
Kleine Kammermusik
Trois Pièces Brèves
Sechs Bagatellen

The Galliard Ensemble [Kathyrn Thomas, flute; Katherine Spencer, clarinet; Owen Dennis, oboe; Helen Simons, bassoon; Richard Bayliss, horn]

Recorded October 2000, St Mary’s Church, Blackheath, London

Reviewed by: Stewart McIlwham

Reviewed: September 2002

The wind quintet has always been a poor relation when it comes to chamber ensemble combinations. Perhaps this has something to do with its rather top-heavy tonal blend. The numerous quintets by Franz Danzi and Anton Reicha are pleasant enough but hardly classify as great music. It was not until the 20th-century that matters improved. This release brings together most of the notable shorter works or suites while side-stepping the century’s meatier works by Nielsen, Francaix and Schoenberg.

The title of the album comes from Berio’s work, which has the novelty of requiring the players to recite texts relating to various animals. The Galliard Ensemble is a young group who bring the necessary wit and character to this and the rest of this programme. I was not familiar with Norman Hallam’s Dance Suite or Eurico Carrapatoso’s Cinco Elegias but enjoyed the Galliard’s traversal of this pleasant but ultimately unchallenging music, likewise the more familiar Farkas Hungarian Dances. Carrapatoso’s Elegias are named after Bartók, Tailleferre, Webern, Messiaen and Stravinsky and not surprisingly each movement owes a debt to its dedicatee.

The remaining three works are in my opinion of more interest to the general collector. Jacques Ibert was one of a group of French composers who have supplied wind players with valuable works of technical challenge and fine craft. His Trois Pièces Brèves last a mere seven minutes but skilfully put the players through a pleasing range of musical hurdles employing some truly memorable themes. Hindemith’s Kleine Kammermusik is probably the best known of these works due to it being part of Hindemith’s complete Kammermusik series, which won a gramophone award in Riccardo Chailly’s complete Decca set. The five movements are vintage Hindemith and anyone who responds to this composer’s austere language will derive suitable pleasure.

The remaining work, Ligeti’s Six Bagatelles is a classic (if there is such a thing for wind quintet). Ligeti’s manipulation of tempo, rhythm and tone-colour make this a fascinating twelve minutes of creative inspiration placing serious demands on the performers. The Galliard’s performance is very good but if one compares it with the rendition by London Winds on Sony’s Ligeti Edition another level of interpretation is on offer. Those primarily interested in a recording of this work need look no further.

Overall this repertoire is very well prepared and performed, although I found the recording a touch reverberant for my taste. Some of the text in the Berio is not ideally clear but is reproduced in the CD booklet. Deux-Elles is to be applauded for recording this talented group in a programme not likely to be duplicated. How about an all-Francaix disc – the two Quintets and the Wind Quartet (no horn) – from the same stable?

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