The Manning Music Concert Series at William Peace University brought forth a fine artistic and educational offering in Kenan Hall, enhancing an equally fine April evening. Delivering the goods were five accomplished musicians from the North Carolina Symphony – flutist Mary E. Boone, clarinetist Michael E. Cyzewski, oboist Sandra Posch, bassoonist Victor Benedict and horn player Rachel Niketopoulos. And one must not overlook the contribution of horn player Christopher Caudill, who served as the group’s “historian” and who provided erudite commentary for the three program selections. General and biographical information on all these players can be found here.
For the opening appetizer course, it was the Six Bagatelles for Wind Quintet by the Hungarian composer György Ligeti (1923-2006). This six-movement piece provided a mixture of amusing little trifles and more substantial matter. The opening Allegro con spirito was as playful as the following Rubato Lamentoso was mournful. The Allegro grazioso featured an entertaining duel between the clarinet and the bassoon. It is difficult to imagine why the Soviet censors felt threatened by the “dangerous” sixth movement, Molto vivace Capriccioso. Here was all the liveliness of an untamed colt cavorting in a verdant pasture.
Substantial fare came in the form of the four-movement Wind Quintet No. 1 by the French composer Jean Françaix (1912-1997), an artist said to be greatly admired by no less a luminary than Ravel. And according to Caudill’s commentary, Françaix wanted the piece to be “nasty,” that is, fiendishly difficult for the performers. The players seemed pretty much unfazed by its acrobatic demands, perhaps a testament to their considerable talents and hard work. The clarinet was the star of the Presto movement with a jazz-like run. The tuneful Tema led into the demanding and fiery closing Tempo di Marcia.
The most senior (and best known) of these featured composers was Denmark’s Carl Nielsen (1865-1931). His Quintet for Winds was said to have been inspired by hearing in the background a similar work by Mozart. While it does not smack of anything by that long-ago composer, it can be credibly described (again from Caudill) as “Brahmsian.” Nielsen is said to have written the parts to capture the characteristics of each instrument, and even of each performer as he then knew every player. Obviously all subsequent hearers have lost those latter subtleties, but each of the instruments is accorded a no-nonsense workout. The Menuet featured engaging solos by bassoon and horn. The third and final movement provided the audience with an uncommon treat. During the Adagio, the oboist picks up the English horn for some brief measures. (Neither English nor horn, this instrument, often called cor anglais, can be described as an alto oboe.) Theme and variations ended the quintet in a blaze of romantic harmony.
Here was a splendid example of the cultural and educational advantages that this area can offer in profusion. The goodly crowd of music lovers should have been supplemented by a goodly sprinkling of Peace students.