Roussel and Poulenc we've heard of, but Caplet and Bernard? The NC Collaborative, a regional wind quintet with piano, and the Coastal Winds Quintet, made up of wind faculty members at East Carolina University, presented a wonderful program titled "À la française," music for winds and piano and for winds alone, all drawn from a 50-year period between the 1880s and 1930s. Albert Roussel and Francis Poulenc were the better known composers, but the real gems on the program at Fletcher Recital Hall were pieces by André Caplet (1878-1925) and Emile Bernard (1843-1902).
The NC Collaborative is a relatively new sextet of musicians from the Triangle, Greensboro, Greenville and Goldsboro. Collaborative founder and pianist Jeremy Thompson has moved from McGill University in Canada to Goldsboro, Andrew Lowy, clarinet, and Christopher Caudill, hor,n are in the North Carolina Symphony, Mary Ashley Barret, oboe, and Michael Burns, bassoon, are from the University of North Carolina-Greensboro, and Christine Gustafson, flute, is from ECU in Greenville. The Coastal Winds Quintet is made up of ECU wind faculty members: Dr. Gustafson, Bo Newsome, oboe, Douglas Monroe, clarinet, Christopher Ulffers, bassoon, and Mary Burroughs, horn. Dormant for several years, the group is re-forming and initiating a series of chamber music programs for winds involving faculty members, faculty members and their students, and other soloists. Both groups are impressive ensembles and should be heard more often.
Roussel's Divertissement, Op. 6, which opened the program, is by turns energetically jazzy and more darkly introspective. Written in 1906, the piece's contrasts are interesting, with duos within the ensemble playing against other duos or trios, and with exposed solo lines played against either another single instrument or group of instruments. Legato lines mixed with marcato lines, too, offering a colorful variety of musical textures.
Poulenc's Sextuor, a three-movement piece from the 1930s, offered similar contrasts, with several dashes of humor and some evocative passages as well. The opening allegro vivace begins emphatically, at times resembling music from a carnival, with a notable dialogue between the bassoon and the oboe and flute. But the forward-moving music also recalls a chase scene (perhaps from a cartoon?) and even a Paris traffic jam. Within the opening movement also come shifts in mood, with a central section much darker, led by a somber bassoon and solo piano, followed by oboe, then flute, then horn. The energy level picks up again before the driving close. The second divertissement: andantino movement starts slowly, pauses for the introduction of a sprightly section, then returns to a lovely though somewhat enigmatic closing. The finale: prestissimo movement opens with the same energy of the beginning allegro, with solo lines mixing with duos and trios, but it, too, has a noticeable mood shift in the middle, with a somber, more legato section led by bassoon and oboe.
The Quintette, Op. 8, by André Caplet, from 1898, featured all the Collaborative members but Caudill on horn. Caplet is known for orchestrating some of Debussy's works, and he also conducted the Boston Opera from 1910-14. This work, in four movements, is a lovely piece filled with melody and excitement. The allegro opens with a bold five-note figure that returns several times and mixes sections for full ensemble with lines for solo instrument. The second adagio movement, although brief, was the high point of the entire program, with a particularly moving and emotional clarinet line beautifully played by Lowy. A lively scherzo skipped along playfully, and the closing finale—allegro con fuoco opened with a flurry on the piano and came to a rousing end.
The evening's most enjoyable selection closed the program: the andante sostenuto from Emile Bernard's Divertissement pour Instruments a Vent, Op. 36 (1884). The Coastal Winds were joined by five wind instrument students, and the rich sound of 10 winds on such a wonderful piece was thoroughly captivating. Most of the piece seemed to have 10 distinct musical lines; the students were not merely doubling their professors. From the stately opening to the more up-tempo sections, this was music that was truly enjoyable, and it was quite well played.
The entire concert featured wonderful music making. The blend of winds and the blend of winds and piano by the NC Collaborative was top-rate throughout, and Thompson's piano playing was especially notable for providing a high-energy voice when needed, along with more subtle and softer cushioning behind the winds. Each of the wind players shone, either on solo lines or in ensemble. And the bonus of hearing top ECU wind students provided an extra benefit to the program. We have heard top ECU string students perform in Four Seasons Chamber Music Festival Next Generation concerts; now we are hearing another outstanding aspect of the ECU School of Music.