PCM2: Royal Northern Sinfonia Winds & Christian Blackshaw – Nielsen and Mozart

Wind Quintet, FS100/Op.43
Quintet in E flat for Piano and Winds, K452

Royal Northern Sinfonia Winds [Juliette Bausor (flute), Steven Hudson (oboe & cor anglais), Timothy Orpen (clarinet), Stephen Reay (bassoon) & Peter Francomb (horn)]

Christian Blackshaw (piano)

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 27 July, 2015
Venue: Cadogan Hall, London

Royal Northern Sinfonia WindsThe second Proms Chamber Music recital of the Season brought Royal Northern Sinfonia Winds for a most apposite coupling that opened with Carl Nielsen’s Wind Quintet (1922). Often viewed as a relaxation after its composer’s labours on his Fifth Symphony, the Quintet is the more prescient as to its equivocal range of emotion within the nominally classical structure.

This account had a firm grasp of the initial Allegro and its subtly skewed sonata design, then rendered the central Minuet with a Mozartean elegance that never risked preciousness. The taciturn ‘Prelude’ to the Finale brings a degree of dissonance as was tellingly rendered here (not least by oboist Steven Hudson with his foray into cor anglais territory); after which, the chorale-like theme evinced an expressive poise as persisted across the eleven diverse variations that follow, prior to a heightened restatement of the chorale. Interesting, too, to reflect on the notion that the wind-quintet as a medium fails through its unequal balance between brass and woodwind: something that was hardly, if at all, an issue here.

Nor in Mozart’s Quintet for Piano and Winds (1784) that followed, though this is more to do with its composer’s determination to blend the instruments into a seamless unity. Whether this was an aspect to which these performers had paid especial attention, it certainly came over as such thanks to the exquisite tonal shadings conjured by the four wind-players (no flute); to which Christian Blackshaw, so often the least demonstrative of pianists, contributed playing of meaningful restraint – not least in the central Larghetto, which arguably outstrips any of the slow movements in the piano concertos from that year in its deftly applied profundity. Not that there was any lack either of focus in the opening Allegro, with its wryly portentous introduction, or of impetus in a final Allegretto which unfolded with all the requisite humour.

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