PCM3: London Winds play Mozart and Richard Strauss

Serenade in C minor, K388
Suite in B flat, Op.4

London Winds directed by Michael Collins (clarinet)

Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood

Reviewed: 4 August, 2014
Venue: Cadogan Hall, London

Michael Collins. Photo: www.michael-collins.co.ukSummer days and serenades for wind instruments are an ideal match. The light streaming through the windows of Cadogan Hall only enhanced that feeling, particularly so in early Richard Strauss – though the Mozart chosen by London Winds for this concert was not quite so light-hearted.Using his oft-denoted ‘tragic’ key of C minor, K388 does not call for flutes, the reedy sound of pairs of oboes, clarinets and bassoons boosted by two horns. London Winds drew a stark picture of the first movement, its relatively angular theme in need of comfort, which was in part provided by the lovely cantabile of Gareth Hulse’s oboe in the second theme. The Minuet felt less suitable for dancing than for strict observance of its canonic part-writing, though the Trio – for oboes and bassoons – offered an attractive contrast. There was a dance element to the Andante, though, its lilting triple-time made persuasive, while the finale, though initially bearing a note of caution, found increasing lightness of scoring as its variations unfolded, bursting through into the light of C major.

Richard Strauss completed his Suite for thirteen wind instruments in 1884, at the age of 20, and proved an important milestone for its composer, becoming the first work he conducted in public. As Michael Collins and flautist Philippa Davies pointed out in a brief interview, the piece has a dual identity – richly Romantic in much of its musical language, but with Strauss holding onto Baroque forms and techniques at the request of Hans von Bülow, who commissioned the work. The beginning of the ‘Praeludium’ resembled a sonorous organ pedal, thanks to the low notes of bassoonists Dan Jemison and Helen Simons and contrabassoonist Fraser Gordon, supporting textures that spoke of the young composer’s expertise; and, at the other end, the finale began as a darker recitative before its relatively complicated fugal episode took hold, the theme passing clearly between the instruments. London Winds made a beautiful sound, clean but spirited, and enjoyed the sumptuous colours of the vividly chromatic ‘Romance’. There were also indications in the wind-writing of Strauss’s mature orchestral works to come, the horns giving out a powerful theme in the ‘Praeludium’ that seemed destined for Don Juan, while outlines of the surprisingly furtive ‘Gavotte’ looked forward to Der Rosenkavalier. In fact this performance was notable for its operatic qualities, the ensemble characterising the themes with great enthusiasm but also with a sense of grace. Collins led subtly from the clarinet, with each instrument careful not to outdo the other, the ensemble enjoying the opportunity to play music of pure Romantic expression that nonetheless revealed Strauss’s love of Mozart.

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