Church For All Nations
Gyorgy Ligeti: Six Bagatelles for Wind Quintet
Jean Francaix: Quatour
Maurice Ravel/Mason Jones: Le Tombeau de Couperin
Darius Milhaud: Le Cheminee du Roi Rene
Leos Janacek: Mladi
Kaoru Hinata (flute)
Jennifer Raymond (oboe)
Christopher Cullen (clarinet)
Under the American system, wind players are introduced at an early age to a spectacular repertoire for concert band or wind ensemble, however, if they show considerable promise as musicians, they are whisked off to conservatory, where the emphasis is so entirely placed on the orchestra that the fine writing of Persichetti and Hindemith, Grainger and Holst, Sousa and Vaughn Williams becomes just a faded memory of the halcyon days of high school. Their refuge is the world of chamber music, where the riches of the twentieth century are stored in hundreds of combinations. This exciting repertoire is available throughout their college years but then seems to disappear forever when they reach the level of professionalism. A quick survey of a typical New York concert season uncovers dozens of major recitals for string quartets and corollary combinations but virtually no wind chamber music whatsoever. Not that they aren’t established groups that specialize in this fare, it is just that they are few and far between and vanishing from the American scene as inexorably as the buffalo.
Enter circadia, a core group of three dedicated musicians bent on keeping this important tradition alive. Their interesting idea is to expand their trio for each concert with a different mix of players so that over time they can explore the far reaches of the intimate wind repertoire. Last evening was a relatively standard one in terms of instruments (circadia also performs with vocalists) and allowed these fine interpreters to exhibit some of the gems of their unique literature.
The wind quintet was really the subject of this thoughtful evening. Gyorgy Ligeti was much less radical when he was thirty than he is today and so his bagatelles have a traditional Magyar sound to them with just a hint of East Asian pentatonism. They are rhythmically complex and dense and yet diaphanously spidery in texture. Technically very difficult to articulate and architecturally fragile, these short pieces are not for the squeamish performer. circadia, augmented by Lecolion Washington (bassoon) and Chad Yarbrough (horn) seemed to navigate this choppy Danube with ease. With their friends as a ground, the core group impressed with its agility, Christopher Cullen especially nimble in his loopy clarinet flights (the last piece is marked “as though insane”).
Often individual performers are the inspirations for great works of music. In the case of the horn, Leutgeb and his amazing versatility allowed Mozart to compose all of his wonderful music for the problematic instrument and the great virtuoso known theatrically as “Punto” dazzled many composers and was responsible for some of their personal best efforts. For Jean Francaix the ineptitude and inconsistency of the hornist at the Le Mans Conservatoire was so daunting that he composed his first major chamber piece for winds without this key instrument! The resulting sound with only a rambling bassoon puts the listener in mind of a boulevardier and circadia caught the humor (that most elusive of qualities) of the work, projecting it quite well.
Maurice Ravel was an ambulance driver in the Great War. He saw a lot of men die. Perhaps his most poignant work is this piano suite inspired after a visit to the grave of the master of the French dance. Each movement is a portrait of a different friend of the composer who died during the conflagration. Ravel himself orchestrated some sections of the original piano music for full ensemble and Mason Jones, long the principal horn of the Philadelphia Orchestra, arranged some of those sections for wind quintet, adding the fugue from the original piano score. Both the Ravel and Jones transcriptions feature the oboe and Jennifer Raymond showed off her virtuosity in a snappy reading of the prelude, her runs coming fast but always crisply articulated, and hauntingly led the menuet, one of Ravel’s most beautiful endeavors, her phrasing bringing tears to the eye.
Auric was the un of Les Six who made his living as a film composer, but the others all had a turn as well. The Milhaud was a descriptive suite and interesting as a piece of cinematic history, if not one of his meatiest efforts. Anyone familiar with the opera The Cunning Little Vixen would recognize the opening of the nostalgic Mladi (“Youth”) and the signature Janacek mood of the melancholy of time passing. Here it was Kaoru Hinata’s turn to shine, deftly moving from flute to piccolo and sending her lovely airs into the void of this amazing composer’s reflective and ruminative universe, emblems of the spirit of our own lost youth plunging headlong into the infinite. The group was joined for this disquieting sextet by David Hattner who provided a properly disturbing flaccid base for these dangerous journeys back into our collective psyches.
circadia in time may be able to correct some of the imbalances in the American view of serious art music and, while they are doing so, will undoubtedly continue to present their own repertoire in a highly professional manner. There is certainly a place for these compositions at the center of the New York scene and this group seems on the verge of a breakthrough. After all, the Church For All Nations is only two blocks from Carnegie Hall.
Frederick L. Kirshnit