Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center at Alice Tully Hall – Reicha, Beethoven, Ligeti, Françaix & Poulenc

Wind Quintet in E-minor, Op.88/1 
Piano and Wind Quintet, Op.16
Six Bagatelles
L’heure du berger

Tara Helen O’Connor (flute), Hugo Souza (oboe), Sebastian Manz (clarinet), Marc Goldberg (bassoon), & David Byrd-Marrow (horn) with Juho Pohjonen (piano)

3 of 5 stars

Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski

Reviewed: 13 July, 2022
Venue: Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center, New York City

Summer breezes swept through Alice Tully Hall as five Chamber Music Society wind-players and Juho Pohjonen delivered masterly performances. 

Things got off to a festive start with a perfectly paced rendition of the first of Anton Reicha’s twenty-four Wind Quintets. Playing with splendid intonation and balance, the musicians unveiled the score’s kaleidoscope of colors in the largely folk-inspired score with unobtrusive clarity. The highlight was the charming set of variations in the second movement, where they gracefully navigated each of their solo moments.

Things became more serious with Beethoven. Pohjonen took a spirited lead throughout but was especially striking in the cadenza-like flourishes of the introduction, marked Grave.  David Byrd-Marrow’s delivery of the hazardous horn arpeggio in the ensuing Allegro proper was nothing less than thrilling. All the wind-players distinguished themselves in the intriguing interplay of the Andante, and the Finale was appropriately sprightly.

Post-intermission brought us into the twentieth-century and the highpoint of the evening: a highly animated reading of György Ligeti’s Six Bagatelles. Brief, unpretentious and pungent, each one expresses a distinct mood. Most are playful, but two – one dedicated to and reminiscent of Bartók – begin and end slowly. As performed by these virtuosos, who easily managed all the meter changes and accentuated the humor of the music, all were intense and memorable, but especially the third, Allegro grazioso, marked by especially witty and nimble contributions from Tara Helen O’Connor and Hugo Souza. 

Next came another brief and whimsical piece, Jean Françaix’s L’heure du berger. The three movements provide a description of characters seen dining in a Parisian café. The most unforgettable in this fresh and fun-filled performance was the languid second, ‘Pin-up Girls’, made vivid by Sebastian Manz’s deft and sensual clarinet solo and Byrd-Marrow’s fine work on the horn.

A bravura performance of Poulenc’s jazzy Sextet, bursting with zest and character concluded the program. Though mostly light-hearted in tone, the score is fiendishly difficult, but the musicians were more than up to the mark, delivering a memorable account that conveyed the music’s melancholy as well as its wit.

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