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The performance of the Carolina Wind Quintet in Person Recital Hall on the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill was a continuation of a long tradition. With few personnel changes, it is the longest continuously active faculty ensemble in the UNC-CH Department of Music’s history. The current quintet is comprised of Brooks de Wetter-Smith, flute; Anna Lampidis, oboe; Donald L. Oehler, clarinet; Pamela Burleson, horn and John Pederson, bassoon.
The instrumentation for this ensemble was established early in the 19th century by Anton Reicha who wrote 24 wind quintets and Franz Danzi who wrote nine. Just think of the dissimilar timbre of these five instruments, even individually. For example, compare the bassoon solo that is heard at the beginning of Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps with the opening solo of Tchaikovsky’s Pathetique Symphony. It is hard to believe that this is the same instrument. Or listen to the opening clarinet glissando of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue from the rich low trill to the piercing high notes. Add all five instruments of a wind quintet, and the versatility and variety of tone color is phenomenal.
The Carolina Wind Quintet took full advantage of the possibilities in a concert that included one of the seminal works by Franz Danzi and two from the last half of the twentieth century. Danzi’s Bläserquintett B-dur, Op. 56, No. 1 is cast in four movements, somewhat in emulation of the string quartets of Haydn and Mozart. The first movement, filled with charming tunes and a variety of pairings and groupings of instruments, was suggestive of Mozart who was Danzi’s most greatly admired composer. The second movement began with a chorale-like statement and wended its way through stages of development. The Minuett-Trio third movement had themes that were passed from one instrument to another in a variety of patterns and combinations. The final movement began with a somewhat rustic, playful song and moved along to a calm but joyful ending. Following the styles of the Classical era, there was little counterpoint but strong melodic development. The performance informed us that the North Carolina Wind Quintet is strong on ensemble with clear coordinated attacks and crisp cut-offs. Each of the players demonstrated high professional technical skill as well as a keen understanding and interpretation.
Next on the program was Roaring Fork, a 1997 composition by Eric Ewazen who, in his writing, reflects on musical impressions of places in Colorado. The first movement, titled “Whitewater Rapids (Maroon Creek)” was mostly tonal and consonant, characterized by interesting melodies and effects that suggest rolling rapids. It was also notable for the clever counterpoint writing. The rich woody sound of the lower-pitched instruments was attention grabbing. The second movement, “Columbines (Snowmass Lake),” was mostly reflective and calm. The third movement, “At The Summit (Buckhorn Pass)” started with a fugue – the horn first, then the bassoon and next the flute joined in a fascinating chase with varying iterations of melody. Near the end, the flute had it all to itself over an accompaniment that was lyrical in itself. The impression was that the five artists performing were quite at home with this music and communicated their pleasure in playing it to the audience’s pleasure in hearing it.
After an intermission the selection was Quintet for Winds, Op. 34 (1971) by the Norwegian Johan Kvandal (1919 – 1995). There were hints of the airy and cool sounds that much Nordic music is noted for. Its slow-fast-slow-fast format began with a dark chordal passage out of which emerged a chilling, sad oboe solo. It seemed that the music was trying to rise to a more positive and hopeful place, but fell short each time it reached up. Finally, the oboe passed the melody to the horn which carried it without pause into the second movement by introducing a lively and playful, but not happy, theme. Other instruments got involved in a free-for-all which included some marvelous counterpoint. The third movement began with soft ripe chords over which the flute soared, the oboe commented, and a heroic horn solo had its say. The final movement opened with an exciting flourish of instruments in conversation. The rhythm got more intricate and the counterpoint more complex with scales and runs coming from all directions. Snippets of Norwegian folk songs bubbled up in the instrumental dialogue. When it settled on a tritone chord, which was repeated emphatically three times, it ended. This selection was especially pleasing with rich harmonies, ingenious counterpoint and stunning sonic realizations as performed by the Carolina Wind Quintet.