Music from the Americas.
Contents: Suite Hermetia, Pitomberia; Quintet for Winds, Muczynski; Quintet No. 2, Wilder; Dance Suite, Valjean; Quintet for Winds, Harbison.
The Lieurance Woodwind Quintet, resident chamber ensemble at Wichita State University, has issued an entertaining and well-engineered disc of contemporary wind quintet music. The ensemble displays a rich ambience and full-bodied sound. I especially like the unified sonority of the bassoon and horn. Nicholas Smith's rich sound is matched by the dark, warm tone of bassoonist Scott Oakes. This is the basis of a unified ensemble blend.
Pitonberia's Suite Hermetia is a delightful work full of rhythmic diversity from Latin and Caribbean cultures. The ensemble is put through its paces with stylistically diverse movements. A beautifully rendered oboe cadenza introduces the brisk finale that is deftly performed.
Muczynski Quintet for Winds is somber and darkly scored, but an effective addition to any program. The sunnier third movement is performed with a clarity and finesse that give a welcome respite from the predominantly placid and thick textures of the other movements. This is an accessible work for college ensembles, and students should appreciate having a fine reference recording.
Alec Wilder's music is sometimes hard to describe--transient in nature, not really belonging to any one defined style. His Quintet No. 2, like much of his other music, seems serious, then breaks out into jazz and pop idioms, creating a pastiche effect. I find this quintet one of his more successful works, creating interest through its changing transitions and moods. The group recorded a masterful performance.
Paul Valjean's Dance Suite offers much variety within a relatively short span. The Gavotte is a short, sparkling movement that demonstrates the clarity of the treble winds who provide a dancing trio for the underpinning of the bassoon and horn. The Sarabande is a hauntingly beautiful melody that once again features parings of the upper winds in duet playing before hornist Nicholas Smith floats a glorious cantabile melody. Tango is the longest movement, in which all instruments have a melody. The Pas de Deux features the double reeds. The Waltz is brisk with surprising hemiola elements. The good-humored nature of the finale is a perfect conclusion to a charming work.
John Harbison's Quintet for Winds is recognized as one of the most significant and challenging wind quintets of the 20th century; the high tessitura and endurance requirements of the horn part, for example, are legendary. However, it is worth the effort, and the ensemble gives a credible performance. Unisons are well balanced, as are long melodies that are passed from one voice to another. A drier venue, or engineering ambience, resulting in a transparent texture, aids in ensemble clarity. This is especially true in the Scherzo where the ensemble shines. The brisk tempo and the timing and balance in this difficult movement are spectacular. The balance and blend in the opening to the Finale should be a model for all wind quintets, and the sonority in homophonic moments is memorable.
This disc is an achievement of the highest order and is highly recommended to those in professional, collegiate, or amateur quintets. You will not be disappointed!