Berlin Philharmonic Wind Quintet closes Celebrity Series’ classical season in bracing style

May 4, 2013 at 11:52 am

By Keith Powers

The Berlin Philharmonic Wind Quintet performed Friday night at Jordan Hall for the Celebrity Series.

With a bracing blend of the elegant and the exotic, the Berlin Philharmonic Wind Quintet brought the classical music part of the Celebrity Series season to a close Friday evening at Jordan Hall.

One of no less than thirty separate chamber ensembles carved from the estimable Philharmonic, the quintet is perhaps the most established. Founded in 1988, they tour annually, and have released over a dozen substantial recordings.

This program opened with an unusual arrangement of Mozart works conceived for mechanical organ. Popular in its day, the instrument was a cross between a clock and an organ, with dextrous possibilities but limited tonal colors. Mozart thought this commission beneath him—the organs were mostly used in public spaces for background music—but he still turned out scores with brilliant possibilities. They have all been arranged over the years for various instruments, and here Michael Hasel, the quintet’s flutist, stitched together a single suite from three discrete pieces: the Fantasies, K. 594, 616, and 608.

The modulations of the three Fantasies—from F minor to F major and back—their length, and their character lend themselves nicely to Hasel’s conception, and the depth of the original ensures lively part writing for each member of the ensemble.

The musicianship in each of the seven movements was of the highest order. Hasel (playing a dark-toned wooden flute) ventured the primary melody in the opening, joined in immediately by oboist Andreas Wittmann and clarinetist Walter Seyfarth. But it was the quality of the parts that distinguished the work—Mozart was writing for an instrument unlimited by mere human potential, and layered complexity upon complexity for the machine—so that by the finale, a five part fugue based on a three-note figure—everyone, including bassoonist Marion Reinhard, was offering lively ideas.

Pavel Haas’ Quintet, Op. 10 followed. Its four unusual movements were highlighted by a striking third, marked Ballo eccentric, curious and amusing. Hasel switched to a wooden piccolo, and Seyfarth added to the comic possibilities by unpacking parts of a miniature clarinet from his jacket pocket, assembling the pieces on the fly, and jumping in with a loony dance figure. A broad chorale ended the work, starkly different in character, religious and high-minded.

Three contemporary French works, by Ibert, Milhaud, and Françaix, came after the interlude. Ibert’s Trois pièces brèves were just that, miniatures of alternating fast-slow-fast tempos, highlighted by a legato flute/clarinet duet in the slow section. Milhaud’s La Cheminée du roi René, an elegant seven-movement suite of medieval character, harkens to a royal tournament, with a hunting movement, a dance section (a sarabande), and chivalric interplay. It concludes with a rich madrigal, a nocturne, evocatively summing up a day of adventure and romance. Muted playing by hornist Fergus McWilliam created a rich mood.

Jean Françaix’ Quintet No. 1, uncomplicated music with the wit and gestural sense of a film score, closed the published program. A warm reception encouraged two encores: a blues by Gunther Schuller, whose music is no stranger to this room, and a medley of Americana, a tip of the hat by the visitors to their hosts.

For a listing of next season’s Celebrity Series concerts, visit celebrityseries.org or call 617-482-2595.

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