Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Hindemith Wind Quintet (Germany) performs in the Felicja Blumental International Music Festival

The Felicja Blumental International Music Festival and Guitar Week took place at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art from April 11th to 16th 2011. It presented a selection of concerts, movies and theatrical productions and featured performers from many countries. One focus of the festival was on the works of Australian composer Percy Aldridge Grainger (1882-1961), in collaboration with the Australian Embassy, on the 50th anniversary of his death.

The Hindemith Wind Quartet hails from Germany, its members all principal players from the Frankfurt Opera Orchestra, each originally coming from a different country. Flautist Clara Andrada de la Calle (Spain), oboist Nick Deutsch (Australia), clarinetist Johannes Gmeinder (Germany), horn player Sybille Mahni (Switzerland) and bassoonist Richard Morschel make up this select group. The quintet performs only works written originally for this specific combination.

The Hindemith Wind Quintet opened its concert, in the Assia Gallery April 14th 2011, with Samuel Barber’s (1910-1981) “Summer Music for Wind Quintet” opus 31, a work composed and premiered in Detroit in 1956. Barber’s only work for wind ensemble, the opening section of the work, the first of 11 continuous sections, is marked “slow and indolent”. A mood piece, evocative, poetic and nostalgic, its sections varied, it is characterized by its exquisite oboe solo (Deutsch) and haunting, long notes on the horn (Mahni). The Hindemith Quintet’s reading of it was sensitive, creating a richly colored canvas. This was followed by German Jewish composer Hanns Eisler’s (1898-1962) “Divertimento opus 4” for wind quintet. This early chromatic and harmonically dense work, composed in 1923, before the composer’s unhappy move to the USA, bears the influence of Schonberg and Webern, both of whom had been Eisler’s teachers. Offering many solos, the work is restless and capricious.

Czech-born Antoine-Joseph Reicha (1770-1836), the most significant pioneer of the woodwind quintet, composed 24 of them, each in four movements; they constitute some of the finest repertoire composed for winds, sometimes being referred to as “symphonic” in scope. The Quintet in E flat major opus 88 no.2 (1817) is the most famous of them. In the extended bassoon solo in the opening movement, Morschel’s cantabile playing was a treat. The quintet’s playing of the work was fresh, direct, unmannered and a delight to the audience.

Paul Hindemith (1895-1963) composed his “Kleine Kammermusik” (Small Chamber Music) opus 24 no.2 in 1923, this, yet another work showing the composer’s predilection for wind instruments, being clearly influenced by Stravinsky’s neo-classical language. The first movement expounds a rakish clarinet theme (Gmeinder), setting the scene for the piece with its characteristically Hindemith ostinato figures. The players skillfully guide the audience through the sinewy score, its bitter-sweet and sardonic moments, its lyrical, buffoonish and terse moments. Hindemith’s economy of writing (the fourth movement gives each instrument a solo within its mere 23 bars) and sophistication were molded into a brilliant and interesting performance. Deutsch’s playing in the third dirge-like movement was soul-searching and compelling.

Of his “Walking Tune” for Wind Five, Australian-born pianist and composer Percy Grainger writes of this, his only work for winds (it subsequently underwent many transcriptions): “I composed the little tune on which this piece is based as a whistling accompaniment to my tramping feet while on a three days’ walk in West Argyleshire (Scottish Highlands) in the summer of 1900. At that time – I had just turned 18 – I was deeply in love with thoughts of the Celtic world…” Indeed British in flavor, this short, tonal piece abounds in lush hues and lovely melodies, ending on the thoughtful added sixth major chord.

Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951) began his Wind Quintet opus 26 in April 1923 and finished it in July 1924 after having worked on the twelve-tone method for ten years, a period in which time he published nothing. The quintet is a milestone in that sonata-rondo forms once more present the possibility to compose in the light of atonal music, the composer thus reinventing himself as a neo-classicist. Here he demonstrates the versatility of his new system in a lengthy, large-scale work. The Hindemith Wind Quintet ended its concert with the final movement of it, the Rondo. The players presented the virtuosic movement in its inherent energy and variety, its individual lines ever apparent to the listener.

The Hindemith Wind Quintet is an ensemble of five superb musicians, whose in-depth performance is intelligent, thorough, convincing and moving. The audience was clearly appreciative of their high quality playing. Attending the concert in the Assia Gallery, surrounded by European oil paintings, added to the evening’s enjoyment; exhibited were two paintings of Felicja Blumental, one by Irwin Dom O-Sen, the other by Kees van Dongen, both paintings being part of the Mizne-Blumental Collection.

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