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How do I review perfection?
I will start by complimenting the Tryon Concert Association, now in its 59th consecutive season of presenting chamber music concerts. Each year, they manage to have at least one world-renowned ensemble. For one day, the tiny town of Tryon becomes the center of musical life in North Carolina. Such was the case on Tuesday evening when the Berlin Philharmonic Wind Quintet came on stage at the Tryon Fine Arts Center.
Next, I will give some background regarding the Wind Quintet's parent organization, the "Berliner Philharmoniker." The Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra is very simply the world's greatest symphony orchestra. It has had many distinguished conductors over the 140 years of its existence: Hans von Bülow, Wilhelm Furtwängler, Herbert von Karajan, Claudio Abbado and, currently, Simon Rattle. I attribute the orchestra's continuous quality in no small measure to the fact that it is self-governing with the 126 musicians running the audition and selection process. Even the most distinguished maestro gets only one vote.
Walter Seyfarth initiated the Berlin Philharmonic Wind Quintet in the late 1980s and is still the group's clarinetist. Several other current members have long been in the quintet: Michael Hasel, playing a superb modern German wooden flute, Andreas Wittman, oboe (and English horn), and Fergus McWilliam, French horn. Bassoonist Marion Reinhard is a more recent addition, but it is clear that the quintet has developed its tight ensemble from many years of performing together both in the orchestra and as a chamber group.
So after 25 years of gestation, we have an ensemble poised for perfection. All that is now required is perfection in programming, and it would be hard to improve upon the four pieces that were on Tuesday night's program, two from the 20th century and one each from the 18th and 21st centuries.
Mozart's Fantasy for Mechanical Organ, K.608, originally written for a clock that controlled mechanical flutes, has been arranged by Michael Hasel for wind quintet. Filled with Germanic precision, the piece benefitted greatly from being transcribed. Hasel has included subtleties that no mechanism could have produced, such as a counterpoint passage beginning mp and gradually crescendoing into chords for five instruments tutti.
Windquintet, by Kalevi Aho, is a post-modernist work that makes intelligent use of sonic effects from unusual doublings of the instruments and of the differing characteristics of their upper and lower registers. The four movements are subdivided, yet the work has an overall unity, concluding with a complicated fourth movement having instruments alternately off-stage (first the oboe and clarinet play from the wings, then later the horn and bassoon). The 2006 composition, the major work of the evening, is a significant addition to the repertoire for wind quintet, albeit one that should only be tackled by virtuoso musicians.
Following intermission was Samuel Barber's one-movement "Summer Music," a work which reminds me of the composer's Knoxville: Summer of 1915. It is wistful and sentimental, and it provided an interlude of simple beauty between two complex works.
The concert concluded with Carl Nielsen's familiar Quintet in A Major, Op. 43, a staple of the wind quintet repertoire. The third movement's eleven variations ended the scheduled concert by showcasing the sheer virtuosity of all five musicians.
The capacity audience (315 seats) showed their appreciation of the impeccable musicianship they had just witnessed with a standing ovation. In response, the quintet gave an encore, a whimsical pastiche of American folk songs. It was the perfect end to a perfect concert.