Calefax at Wigmore Hall

Two Motets [Languente miseris; Nato canunt omnia – arr. Hekkema]
Suite bergamasque [arr. Boekhoorn]
Suite La triomphante [arr. Hekkema]

Calefax [Oliver Boekhoorn (oboe), Ivar Berix (clarinet), Raaf Hekkema (saxophone), Jelte Althuis (bass clarinet) & Alban Wesly (bassoon)]

Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood

Reviewed: 4 February, 2013
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Calefax. Photograph: Deen van MeerOn the last occasion the Dutch reed-quintet Calefax gave a BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert at Wigmore Hall, the focus of the musicians’ programme was Spain. This time they looked at a broad range of French musical history, given again in arrangements made by Calefax’s members, their distinctive sound owing to saxophone and bass clarinet replacing the traditional wind-quintet flute and horn, which offers a punchy sound in fortissimos and a doleful quality at the other end of the dynamic scale.

The latter aspect was heard immediately in the first of two Brumel motets arranged by Raaf Hekkema, with meandering melodic lines intertwining as part of a surprisingly mellow sound. The second motet moved between sudden switches of speed but the players stayed together, their sound close to an ‘authentic’ interpretation. Oliver Boekhoorn’s arrangement of Debussy’s for-piano Suite bergamasque was less successful, for the ‘Prélude’ needed the greater attack that a pianist’s left-hand would provide. The sound was sonorous, though, and in the ‘Menuet’ and ‘Passepied’ the musicians found rhythmic vitality as the music tripped along, with the perky bassoon line of the latter particularly well managed by Alban Wesly. There was an unaffected account of the Suite’s other movement, ‘Clair de lune’, which kept this well-known music fresh, though the arrangement was hard to reconcile with the original piano.

La triomphante, the most substantial work in the recital, is after Rameau’s Suite of that name from Nouvelles Suite de Pièces de Clavecin with an added ‘Prélude’ from ‘Premier Livre de Pièces de Clavecin’. Hekkema’s arrangements of these harpsichord originals are imaginatively done and were performed with great virtuosity. The ‘Prélude’ began with slow solemnity but cut dramatically to a quick and light-footed dance with the two clarinets. There was a restrained elegance to ‘Fanfarinette’, the ensemble enjoying the character-pieces that Rameau tagged onto the early-18th-century Allemande-Courante-Sarabande-Gigue sequence. ‘La triomphante’ itself was something of a riot, the shrill voice of Ivar Berix’s clarinet emerging time and again with a jaunty melody. The closing ‘Gavotte et six doubles’ was similarly enjoyable, Wesly again negotiating tricky bassoon writing with precision. Rameau’s humour and gift for painting pictures was again evident in the encore of ‘La Poule’, the impudent clucking of oboe and saxophone a joy to behold.

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