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Hindemith, Anders Hillborg, Nielsen, Janáček and Poulenc


Hindemith: Kleine Kammermusik, op. 24/2 (1922)
Anders Hillborg: Six Pieces for Wind Quintet (2007)
Nielsen: Wind Quintet, op.43 (1922)
Janáček: Mladi (Youth) (1924)
Poulenc: Sextet (1932/1939)


St James Wind Quintet (Renate Sokolovska – flute; Suzanne Thorn – oboe; Ellen Deverall – clarinet; Karen Geoghegan – bassoon; Nicholas Ireson – horn) with Katy Ayling (bass clarinet) and Daniel Swain (piano)


Duke's Hall, Royal Academy of Music, London, 9 October 2009


The wind quintet repertoire isn’t especially large so any recital of music for this ensemble is to be welcomed, and especially so when it is as intelligently planned as this show.


Hindemith’s Kleine Kammermusik is, no doubt, supposed to be a fun piece, coming, as it does, from his years as an enfant terrible. However, it is far too thickly scored to really make an impression as a divertissement. As with most performances of this work, no matter how good the playing, and the St James Quintet played very well, it will never manage to lighten the textures and allow the sun to shine through. Hindemith could write truly funny, or at least lighter, music when he wanted to – I am thinking of Der Dämon (1922) or the delightful Flute Sonata (1936), not to mention the two marvelous pieces of musical mayhem for string quartet, from 1923; the Militärmusik Minimax and, the superbly titled, The Overture to Wagner's The Flying Dutchman as played at sight by a second rate concert orchestra at the village well at 7 o'clock in the morning – but the wind quintet simply wasn’t the medium for his humour. Whereas it was for Janáček, his glorious evocation of youth (not childhood), Mladi, being a delight from beginning to end. This sextet, Janáček adds a bass clarinet to the texture, is sheerly joyous, and fully entertaining, even in the finale where our youth grows up a little. Katy Ayling’s contribution was most welcome and very telling here.


Nielsen’s Wind Quintet – the delectable wind quintet as Robert Simpson so perfectly described it – is a masterpiece and it deserves to be better known than it is, but in reality, what chamber work by Nielsen is well known to British concert audiences? In either three or four movements, depending upon how you view the Praeludium which prefaces the final set of variations, the work, which was written for the Copenhagen Quintet, shows off all the abilities of the players and displays a sure hand in the use of the various sonorities available. It was for the separate members of the Copenhagen group that Nielsen intended to write five wind Concertos – each displaying some aspect of the musician himself – and in the finale he allows the personalities of the players to show themselves. I still lament that Nielsen died before he could complete his plan. Tonight’s players truly relished their various moments of stepping out from the ensemble.


Poulenc was not as happy a composer of instrumental music as he was of vocal works. This Sextet – for piano and wind quintet – is full of the light frothiness of the time of Les Six from the 20s, and it is a joy to listen to, even if it feels somewhat incomplete because of the short playing time.


Anders Hillborg’s Six Pieces are aphoristic and, as such, were over in a trice, there being insufficient time for us to grasp his elusive writing. A second performance at the start of the second half would have been most welcome.


The St James Quintet is a very young group – it was formed as recently as 2007 – but it has already achieved the feeling of a much more mature ensemble. The playing was of a very high standard, the players insight into the music performed was exemplary. This was a very satisfying show of music which, really, because of the lack of wind quintets, cannot be programmed too often; such is our loss.


Bob Briggs