This concert of music for Wind Quintet immedately followed the concert Dolcissimo I reviewed earlier. The contrast with that concert could hardly have been more extreme.
Our ears had been purified, refined into the most subtle distinctions of resonance by baroque harp and voice, so that the sound of a modern wind quintet burst on our ears like a thunderstorm after gentle sunshine. The acoustic of Ukaria, so well attuned to chamber music with strings, voices, and piano, struggled to accommodate the vast sound of five modern wind instruments playing together. I was reminded that for the 17th century wind instruments were outdoor instruments. Furthermore, we were hurled from the decorum of the 17th century to the craziness of the 20th. The ensemble known as a wind quintet is a 20th century creation, and the Australian Wind Quintet played a varied program of works from the 20th and 21st centuries, even though the finale was an arrangement of Stravinsky’s pastiche of Pergolesi, the suite from Pulcinella.
The arrangement of Ligeti’s piano Six Bagatelles is huge fun. Flautist Laila Engel’s piccolo added to the fun generated by all the instruments playing in unusual registers, racing around or plangently steady for a moment or two. Paul Champion was particularly impressive with his diminuendos to nothing fading beautifully into the acoustic.
It was followed by Lesions, a piece for clarinet, horn, and bassoon about illness, by the Ukrainian Australian composer Catherine Likhuta. Based on ostinati played by two instruments while the other played a melody, this was a sombre reflection on dealing with one’s own ailments. In her introduction to the piece, the wonderful horn player Carla Blackwood told us that between section three, “Denial” and section 4, “Acceptance” the composer had specified a long break. I was waiting for this, so as to tell when the music changed mood. I completely missed it – perhaps through inattention, or perhaps because the players had given too little a break to be noticeable. This detracted from my appreciation as I continued to hear the music as “Denial”.
A big, complex piece by Elliot Gygyer called Et in Arcadia ego followed. (What music by Gyger is not complex?) This piece was elaborately structured; I percieved many of these layers, and I’m sure I’d pick up a few more with repeated listening. The kindest signposts were a series of long trills (not true trills, but versions of “flattements” produced by flapping keys during a held note) one for each of the five instruments; hearing the last of these I sensed that we were near the conclusion, which was itself very satisfyingly structured.
Gyger’s music is deeply intellectual, and I felt the opening of the work slightly suffered from this. It begins with an actual unison for all the instruments (so the flute is in its bottom register while the bassoon was in its highest register). It is hard enough for any two wind instruments to play the same note perfectly in tune, as they all have such different modes of sound production, When there are five, some playing in unusual registers, trying to do this, even the finest players (and these players are all first-rate) are going to struggle.
This was followed by a premiere of an extremely youthful and exuberant piece by an extremely youthful composer, Elizabeth Younan. Bursting with vitality, Kismet showed a composer as delighted with the possibility of writing for all these wonderful players as Haydn was when he arrived at Esterhazy. She played with many effects, such as rippling arpeggios up and down all the instruments, especially effective on the clarinet (Paul Champion) and bassoon (Lyndon Watts).
Emmanuel Cassimatis, like the other players, a wonderful ensemble player, shone as a soloist in Stravinsky’s Pulcinella suite. These are playful pieces which I have to say I find hard to take seriously any more, but they made a succinct ending to a highly varied if very loud program.
2022 Adelaide Festival
Et in Arcadia ego
Australian Wind Quintet
Venue: UKARIA Cultural Centre | Mount Barker Summit SA
Dates: 13 March 2022