Quintessential winds at Old St.Paul’s

Old St. Paul’s Lunchtime Concerts presents:

Ibert: Trois Pièces Brèves

Gounod: Andante Cantabile, from Petite Symphonie (arr. Tilson)

Nielsen: Quintet, Op.43

Shostakovich: Polka, from The Golden Age

Quintessential – Karen Batten (flute), Madeline Sakofsky (oboe), Moira Hurst (clarinet), Preman Tilson (bassoon), Heather Thompson (French horn)

Old St. Paul’s, Thorndon

Tuesday 2 July, 2013

To be able to hear music of such interesting variety and high standard at a free concert is a privilege indeed.

The Ibert pieces were a great way to start.  They were quirky Ibert at full play, in the opening dance-like Allegro.  There were many fast runs for the smaller instruments, and leaping intervals for the bassoon.  The Andante began as a duet for clarinet and flute, with charming interweaving of lines and timbres, the other instruments joining in at the end.

The finale was marked Assez lent – Allegro scherzando (fine mixture of Romance languages there!)  It was piquant, cheerful and sprightly, again in dance-like rhythm and tempo.  It included a notable oboe solo, followed by a clarinet one.  There were jolly little figures on bassoon, and plenty of support from the horn.

The Andante Cantabile from Gounod’s Petite Symphonie was arranged for the wind group by bassoonist Preman Tilson. This work gave the horn an opportunity to play out, in its solo passages.  The arrangement made a charming and delightful piece, and the players performed with wonderful ensemble.

The major work, Nielsen’s Quintet, is a wonderful composition, and the introduction by Karen Batten, explaining the events depicted and the variations on a chorale in the last movement were very helpful.  The first movement, Allegro ben moderato, depicted a character (the composer?) in the countryside.  There was lots of activity for everyone, fragments of melody and other delicious passages.  The Minuet second movement had the character in the city, and so the music was much busier, with a recurring theme; the Trio section perhaps depicted a party.

The third movement, titled Praeludium (though it was at the end!) consisted of an Adagio, Theme and Variations 1-11.  The plangent Adagio was said to depict a storm in the forest, but it was a very tame storm compared with what we recently experienced!  The composer finds a church to shelter in, and sits at the harmonium, improvising a chorale upon which the variations are made.  The programme behind the variations: they depict the five players for whom Nielsen wrote the piece – people he knew well.

The first variation was for horn and bassoon – an unusual combination.  All five played the next, a flute solo soaring above the others’ musical lines.  No. 3 featured oboe; this variation changed the character of the chorale utterly.  The fourth variation was fast, with all five playing in triplets.  Number 5 featured the clarinet, with a burping bassoon for accompaniment.  No.6 had all five playing a gentle piece, sounding like a heavenly choir singing, with pleasing effect.

The seventh variation was a bassoon solo, in which the composer used the entire register of the instrument.  All played together again, in a minor tonality, in the eighth variation; the music had a rather Eastern sound.  Number 9 was for horn only; Heather Thompson achieved distant, alpenhorn-style sounds.  No. ten had all five  players interlocking with graceful phrases, and changes of key.

The final variation was spiky, with everyone asserting their own phrases.  The tempo quickened, then the splendid chorale was played again.  At this point the bassoon had to insert an extension tube into the top of his instrument, to get the notes at the end, since they were off the instrument’s range.

This wonderful, inventive and cheerful work converted me to Nielsen, of whom I have not been much of a fan to date.

The final work, to send us out in cheerful mood, was the Polka from Shostakovich’s ballet The Golden Age.  It was appropriately characterful and active for such a style of dance, not to say amusing.  Marvellous discords and lumbering rhythms were just some of the ways in which the humorous dance was created.

I noticed after the concert that there was a cor anglais on the platform; I had failed to notice in which work it was used, but I suspect it was in the Ibert.  With both pitches of clarinet in use, that made a total of seven instruments – much wind indeed, for a windy day.



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