20th Century American Works for Winds

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20th Century American Works for Winds

  • Summer Music
  • Pastorale
  • Partita
  • Wind Quintet
  • Quinteto em forma de chôros
  • Suite

American music, Icelandic instrumentalists British venue. It may seem an unlikely combination, but the results are by no means implausible even if the playing is not absolutely beyond reproach in some of the more awkward corners. Barber's still underrated Summer Music is delightfully relaxed and playful here, helped by the familiar glow of The Maltings' acoustic. It is possible to make more of the chromatic inflexions which threaten Barber's idyll, and the timbre of the Icelandic horn is on the woofy side. Nevertheless, I do prefer this account to its more astringent (close-miked) rival from the Marlboro Festival. Next up is the Partita by Irving Fine, definitely not one of his mature, post-Bergian works. There's scarcely anything in the piece that isn't indebted to neo-classical Stravinsky, except perhaps in the last movement, which is more reminiscent of Copland's Quiet City. Textures are scrupulously clean and the playing is good, if a little short on insoucient charm. Schuller's little Suite, his first published work, is a teenage jeu d'esprit which already shows him experimenting with aspects of jazz in the central Blues movement. The players sound woefully stiff at the outset but this turns out to be part of Schuller's design: the 'rhythmic liberties' come later, written into the score.
Chandos's notes make great claims for Harbison's Wind Quintet—''surely the most formidable and arguably the greatest effort in the medium''—and the work is certainly serious in intent, its musical language not always as approachable as we expect from this composer. The outer movements are immediately striking so I shall persevere with the rest and try not to make invidious comparisons with Nielsen and Ligeti. American readers may be familiar with a previous recording on CRI. While eminently lean, lucid and fluent, Beach's brief Pastorale risks sounding old hat after this—its idiom would have been considered antiquated in 1942—and the programme ends on a slightly disconnected note with one of Villa-Lobos's less shapely utterances. Even so, this is a thoroughly recommendable package and, as it's probably not the sort of music you'd want to listen to for 66 minutes at a stretch, Chandos provide plenty of cues.'

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