The wind quintet offers such a kaleidoscope of colours and characterisation that it’s surprising only a handful of composers have made significant contributions to the genre. Happily, there are superb arrangements to be had, and for their second album the New Sydney Wind Quintet has chosen some real gems.
Ravel’s fairytale suite Ma Mère l’Oye (Mother Goose), originally for piano four hands, is the perfect candidate for arrangement. NSWQ’s accomplished orchestral players understand the composer’s rich palette: they are agile and enchanting in the Empress of the Pagodas and bassoonist Andrew Barnes teases out the humour in Beauty and the Beast. Balanced tone in the languid movements comes at the expense of dynamic and dramatic variation, but the quintet throw themselves impressively into the final trills and fanfare.
Of the three Percy Grainger miniatures, Lisbon demonstrates how naturally NSWQ’s soloistic passages bend the ear as they emerge from delicately blended textures. Two works by another Australian composer, Lyle Chan, seize the opportunity for mercurial, mischievous wind writing. Passage is fun for players and listeners alike with its jaunty, jazz-inflected syncopation and swing. His rather docile Calcium Light Night, however, yields an uninspired performance.
Carl Nielsen’s quintet is the main event of any disc for wind ensemble. In the counterpoint of the Menuet and the Theme and Variations, NSWQ stand their ground against even the Berlin Phil quintet’s recording. In capturing the character portraits Nielsen wove into the music to honour the first performers of the work, the members of NSWQ each reveal something of their own musical personalities.