Zephyr Ensemble plus Diedre Irons at Lower Hutt

Chamber Music Hutt Valley

Mozart: Quintet in E flat for piano and winds, K.452
Ken Wilson: Woodwind quintet
Luciano Berio: Opus Number Zoo
Francis Poulenc: Sextet for piano and wind quintet

Zephyr Ensemble Wind Quintet (Bridget Douglas, flute; Robert Orr, oboe; Philip Green, clarinet; Robert Weeks, bassoon; Edward Allen, horn; with Diedre Irons, piano)

Little Theatre, Lower Hutt

Thursday, 13 May, 8pm

When there is a delightful programme, a thoroughly enjoyable and satisfying performance and players of the calibre of these NZSO members and a pianist of international stature, there is really not much for a reviewer to say.  Each of the musicians played perfectly, as far as I could tell.

The Mozart quintet is quite well-known, and was claimed at the time by its composer to be “the best thing I have so far written”.

From the first moment, the sound from the winds was warm; the ensemble was superb.  This is a most gracious and beautiful work which it was gratifying to hear, opening the programme.

Ken Wilson’s wind quintet was written in 1966, and recorded by the Concertante Ensemble in 1986.  The four movements are all very fresh and playful sounding.  Although I have the LP, this was the first time I heard the work live.

The music is lively and spirited, with moments of contemplation.  Many close intervals are featured.  The third movement, allegro marziale, was fun and made me think of a child creeping into a room and surprising the people there.

This is a foremost piece of New Zealand music, and deserves to be heard more often (it is occasionally broadcast on RNZ Concert).  Its craftsmanship, melody and harmony are very individual; it was great to hear it.

Luciano Berio’s Opus Number Zoo I have heard before from this ensemble; it was a late off-course substitute for the scheduled work by Sir William Southgate, which could not be played for copyright reasons (despite it being commissioned by the Hutt Valley Chamber Music Society a number of years ago).

Berio’s sparkling musical humour and the whimsical texts by Rhoda Levine make for great entertainment.  Despite being first performed in 1971, it does not appear in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (1980; reprinted 1995).

The words are worked into the music, with each of the music speaking lines in appropriate pitch and rhythm (and at times with appropriate action and facial expressions).  All the musicians did this well, but Bridget Douglas excelled both in clarity and expression.

The titles of the movements, Barn Dance, The Fawn, The Grey Mouse and Tom Cats, indicate the sort of words and music that might be heard, although the Barn Dance is not for people but for a ‘poor silly chick’ and a fox, while The Fawn is a reflection on war, and men who ‘blast all that is lively’.

Exciting playing and the wonderful words tellingly told made for a most enjoyable experience.

Poulenc was superb at writing for winds, and this work was among his best.  After a startling opening, we were treated to a sprightly, stimulating and intriguing work.  All the playing was animated and first-class, but notable early in the piece was the horn, and the fine bassoon playing.

Sentimental in places (or was it merely pensive), the music traversed energetic moods also.  The final movement was lyrical as it moved from passionate to gentle mood.

This was an interesting programme before an enthusiastic (but not large) audience.  The Hutt Valley Chamber Music Society had considered folding, on account of small audiences.  This was a larger one than is sometimes seen.  Let us hope that the decision to continue will be rewarded with greater patronage.  The concerts presented certainly deserve it.

The concert was rather shorter than usual, but this may have been on account of the necessary substitution to the programme.

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