The Signature Winds Woodwind Quintet performed under the auspices of the Asheville Chamber Players' First Sundays series at St. Matthias Chamber Music Concert Series.
Ron Lambe, Music Director of the Asheville Chamber Players, always features a wind band for the June concert. The players for this concert were Kathy Alley, flute and piccolo, Pat Stone, oboe, Charles Alley, clarinet, Stephanie Lyon, horn, and Mary Thomas, bassoon. In spoken concert notes, it was mentioned that five of them have at one time been oboe players.
They were arranged at the front of the chancel of St. Matthias Church. St. Matthias's acoustics are clean, clear, precise, warm, and with an in-your-lap immediacy and closeness. Although this means that every breath and spit-valve puff can be heard, it also means that every performance nuance, all the individual tone qualities, and all the details of the playing can easily be heard. Much of this is lost in bigger concert spaces. An intimate performance like this is like having the players in one's living room. I ended up sitting on the back row, and from there could hear as clearly as if I were one of the performers.
The program consisted of a Passacaille by A. Barthe; Suite for Woodwind Quintet by Arthur Frackenpohl; excerpts from Milhaud's "La Chéminee du Roi René"; the first movement from Emma Lou Diemer's Woodwind Quintet No. 1; Beethoven's "Ich liebe dich"; the second movement (St. Anthony's Chorale) from Haydn's Divertimento No. 1 in B-flat; Handel's Hornpipe from the Water Music; A. von Kreisler's "Humorous March"; Gounod's "Funeral March of a Marionette"; "Here's That Rainy Day," arr. by Stewart Bruner; Henry Mancini's "Pink Panther"; "Jesus is a Rock in the Weary Land," by William Grant Still, arr. Adam Lesnick; and "Ev'ry Time I Feel the Spirit," arr. by Valerie Coleman.
The program notes indicated the amount of specific connection between the musical choices and local vectors. Bruner is personal friend of the Alleys; Diemer lived and worked, early on, in Virginia and Maryland; and William Grant Still and Valerie Coleman are African-America (a bow to St. Matthias's racially-mixed congregation and early Black history). Still was an oboist and Coleman is a profession flutist.
It's clear that the Signature Winds are both quite professional and enjoy playing together. It's also clear, by the way they included the audience, that they liked playing for us. Their brief spoken program notes were nice; equally informative were some of their funny asides about the ... personal habits of their instruments and the resultant hydration needs of the players.
"Ev'ry Time I Feel the Spirit" is strong-rhythmed parade music; the horn playing was great. "Jesus is a Rock" was imbued with a torchy blues spirit, a little à la Gershwin. The players acknowledged Charles Alley as their blues/jazz inspiration.
The so-well-known "Pink Panther" was the crowd's favorite. Ms. Alley gave a very sharp rendition of the theme on flute, then restated the theme in the only piccolo playing of the afternoon.
When Gounod's "Funeral March of a Marionette" is abbreviated to Alfred Hitchcock's theme, the full, funny programmatic story is lost. In the Gounod version, the pallbearers stumble off track and do a fair amount of carousing in a pub, then fall more or less back into step and stagger and hiccough their way to the cemetery. Signature Winds played this to the hilt; the audience didn't get it.
When I heard the Water Music "Hornpipe," with solos for bassoon and horn, it was clear that the arranger didn't get it, but the quintet's clean playing did shine in spite of the weird musical problems of the arrangement.
Hearing the Signature Winds' version of the St. Anthony Chorale was in itself for me ample justification for coming out to hear this program. The emphasis and clarity in the second line, when the bass divides the rhythm, was really nice.
Beethoven's "Ich liebe dich" shared with the St. Anthony Chorale the sort of choir-like, non-combative wind playing that I like best. This is in strong contrast to the klezmer-like writing style of the Frackenpohl. Milhaud strikes a nice middle ground between Frackenpohl and the rather smooth Diemer, with its constant scale fragments. Frackenpohl was pretty combative, ably handled by Signature Winds.