Chamber Music Review



Zéphyros Winds: High Spirits and Whimsy

February 12, 2007 - Southern Pines, NC:


Concerts of the Classical Concert Series are given in the Sunrise Theater near the restored old Train Station on Broad Street. It seats only 350 and its small size encourages a sense of intimacy between the audience and performers, which is the ideal of chamber music. This spirit of warm exchange held throughout the Zéphyros Winds' program of little-known repertoire. Flutist Jennifer Grim, oboist James Roe, clarinetist Marianne Gythfedt, bassoonist Douglas Quint, and hornist Patrick Pridemore comprise the quintet. Wind quintet literature is all too often heard played by under-rehearsed ad hoc music faculty or orchestra members. What a difference it is when played by an ensemble that is as thoroughly rehearsed as a major touring string quartet! Roe and Quint gave brief spoken introductions in turn that supplemented the succinct program notes by Martha Hall.

August Klughardt (1847-1902) was a German conductor and composer whose works are so unknown that only his operas rate a complete list in the New Grove Music Online. While his Woodwind Quintet, Op. 79, is not a masterpiece, it is a mellow work filled with melodies and a Brahmsian warmth. Much of it consists of gentle dialogs between instruments, but the horn evokes the rowdy spirit of the hunt in the second movement scherzo. It is easy listening in the best sense.

Maurice Ravel's Le Tombeau de Couperin was composed as a six-movement suite for piano in which the composer paid tribute to a rich tradition in French music that can be traced back to the great harpsichordists of the Baroque era. The composer orchestrated four of the movements for full orchestra. Mason Jones, principal horn of the Philadelphia Orchestra for 40 years, arranged them for wind quintet. Since woodwinds dominate the stylized instrumental dialogs of the full orchestra version, Mason's chamber music version captures much of the full version's essence. There was one very brief unidiomatic episode for clarinet in the minuet, or maybe it was a recalcitrant reed.

György Ligeti (1923-2006) was one of the most important avant-garde composers in the last half of the 20th century. Some of his music, such as the Cello Concerto (1966) and "Continuum" for harpsichord (1968), can be pretty wild, with vast dynamic contrasts or mind-numbing ostinati. Film buffs will remember hearing the composer's "Atmosphères" (1961) and "Lux aeterna" (1966) in Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. Ligeti arranged six brief pieces from his solo piano work Musica ricercata (1951-53) for wind quintet. Audiences need never fear his Six Bagatelles (1953)! Many of the pieces are under two minutes and none run more than three minutes. The composer uses a sparse number of notes to maximum effect, employing some harsh dissonances, frequent dynamic changes, and a wild instrumental color palette. Most of the notes are played staccato or are strongly accented. The music ranges from playfully witty to longer singing melodic lines.

The Zéphyros Winds played all these works with great panache, melding instrumental virtuosity with an infectious joy of music making. This concert matched the ensemble's high standards established on their prior Triangle visits.

Series Director Chris Dunn promises an exciting 2007-8 schedule, which will celebrate Classical Concerts' 25th season. Announcements will be made at their sold-out March 12 concert that features pianist Wendy Chen, a long time favorite of Chamber Music audiences at the Spoleto Festival USA. There has been a long waiting list since last fall.