Ensemble Houthandel: Into The Woods
Briefly subverting ‘What shall we do with the drunken sailor?’ into a tango has to be a Good Thing in my book, which is precisely what Malcolm Arnold does in the first of his Three Shanties. They form the sole British contribution to a disc of Anglo-Saxon wind quintet repertoire from the Antwerp-based Ensemble Houthandel. There is a feeling of summer and the great outdoors to the disc’s repertoire, which is lilting and light-hearted by turns. Arnold’s Shanties rollick along infectiously, while Leonard Bernstein’s effervescent Overture to Candide takes well to its wind-quintet clothing, a little oboe queasiness apart.
Chicago-born Robert Muczynski’s Quintet for Winds is a short, good-natured work, an ebullient Allegro risoluto giving way to a lyrical Andante. Sarah Vermeyen finds a wonderful breathy quality for the flute exchanges in the more substantial third movement, which ends in a high spirited romp to the finish line.
In more familiar repertoire, Barber’s Summer Music opens expansively here, but there’s admirably crisp articulation in the agitated middle section. A different American ‘Summertime’ appears in lengthy excerpts (18 minutes’ worth) from Porgy and Bess. Initially lacking in weight and (obviously) minus the text, Bill Holcombe’s arrangement occasionally drifts into blandness, but Gershwin’s toe-tapping tunes won me round.
In an entertaining booklet-note, the ensemble state that their aim is ‘to amuse, surprise and fascinate’. On that basis alone, this disc is a considerable success.