Youth and Reflection – Galliard Ensemble

Serenade in C minor, K388 [arr. Rechtman]
O Curso das Aguas
Three Shanties, Op.5
Walking Tune
A Lincolnshire Posy – Lisbon
Jim Parker
Mississippi Five

Galliard Ensemble [Kathryn Thomas (flute), Owen Dennis (oboe), Katherine Spencer (clarinet), Helen Simons (bassoon), Richard Bayliss (horn)] with Stuart King (bass clarinet)

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 17 December, 2007
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Purcell Room

Galliard EnsembleThis recital saw a welcome return to the South Bank by the Galliard Ensemble. Its programmes of newmusic and established classics for wind quintet have done much to open-up the repertoire in recent years. That said, the transcription of Mozart’s Serenade in C minor – by Israeli bassoonist Mordechai Rechtman – which opened the concert was not uniformly successful in transferring musical content from eight instruments to five. In particular, the Andante felt expressively over-wrought, while the finale lacked a degree of subtlety. Yet the opening Allegro did not want for pathos, and the canonic rigour of the Minuet lost little of its clarity or deftly ironic humour when realised for this medium.

The evening continued with a recent work by Luis Tinoco – the Portuguese composer whose music deserves to make a wider impact in the UK. Certainly O Curso das Aguas (The Drift of the Waters) is as striking and assured as his previous works for wind ensemble: the potential of the wind quartet (no horn) being tested over two movements that allude to natural phenomena from perspectives of relative dynamism and stasis – though a third movement might have amalgamated those types more conclusively. Even so, this is music as distinctive as the artworks by Ashley Davies that inspired it – and which were on show in the foyer to enable listeners to make the connection in their own way.

Sir Malcolm Arnold (1921-2006)The first half closed with the evergreen Three Shanties by Malcolm Arnold – a staple of the wind-quintet repertoire that never fails to divert, and whose humour the Galliard players have seldom savoured more fully. The second half commenced with Janáček’s Mládí (Youth) – a true masterpiece for wind ensemble, whose inter-cutting between differing musical types is no less acute or intensive than in his string quartets, just more relaxed owing to the nature of the instrumentation. This performance was nothing if not characterful, and with Stuart King clearly relishing the bass clarinet part that ranges from something resembling a quirky continuo role to that of the proverbial ‘spanner in the works’.

Two appealing miniatures by Percy Grainger – the winsome Walking Tune and engaging Lisbon (best known in its wind-band incarnation as the first piece of A Lincolnshire Posy) – preceded the final work in the advertised programme. Although best known for his prolific output of music for film and television, Jim Parker has composed in a wide variety of media and his Mississippi Five is a stylish and immensely enjoyable homage to the jazz idioms and scenic attributes of that region. Thus the singular blues vocalise of Bessie Smith was soulfully rendered in a flute-led study, while the evocations of a steamboat and a final collation of animals in a riotous menagerie were imaginatively rendered and brilliantly executed.

As an ideal pre-Christmas entertainment the Galliard Ensemble underlined the seasonal aspect with an uproarious arrangement of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” – all six performers being drawn into the fray. The Galliard will undertake further concerts next year, and a return to the recording studio is in the offing. Lots to look forward to, then, from this liveliest and most adventurous of wind groups.

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